``Your brakes are only as good as your tires,'' said Jeffrey Runge, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), at the April 25 launch of National Tire Safety Week at a Falls Church auto repair shop.
Mr. Runge was one of several speakers at the Falls Church event sponsored by the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) as part of its ongoing ``Be Tire Smart-Play Your PART'' program. Mr. Runge and RMA President Donald B. Shea stressed the amicable relations between NHTSA and the association and their solid agreement on proper tire maintenance despite their disagreements over the final rule on tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) issued April 7.
NHTSA estimates tire failures or improperly maintained tires may contribute to highway accidents that cause as many as 660 deaths and more than 33,000 injuries annually, Mr. Runge said. Tire-related accidents, he noted, include those blamed on loss of control, skidding, flat tires and blowouts, and that many of these accidents are caused by underinflation and/or poor tire maintenance.
NHTSA bases its estimates on police reports where tires were cited as a factor in the accidents reported, a NHTSA spokesman said.
Mr. Runge also said untold numbers of tires and barrels of petroleum are wasted because of underinflated tires.
``One out of four vehicles on the road have at least one significantly underinflated tire,'' he said. This can be prevented if you know the answer to one question: `What's my PSI?'
``Filling your tires with air is as basic and necessary as filling your tank with gas,'' Mr. Runge added.
Mr. Shea quoted the discouraging results of the latest RMA tire safety survey, which found that 85 percent of motorists don't know the proper steps in checking a tire's inflation pressure. Those include checking the pressure at least once a month; using the pressure recommended on the vehicle's tire information label, not the pressure molded on the sidewall; and only checking tires when they are cold and haven't been driven for at least three hours.
``By contrast, three-fourths of all motorists wash their cars regularly,'' Mr. Shea said. ``We think properly inflated tires are a lot more important than a clean car.''
Messrs. Runge and Shea spoke at Skyline Automotive, an auto repair facility and American Car Care Centers (ACCC) Inc. member in Falls Church. As at other tire dealerships participating in National Tire Safety Week, Skyline Automotive offered free tire pressure gauges, free tire inspections and free RMA tire safety brochures for customers.
During the question-and-answer period, Mr. Runge said NHTSA would decide soon on the RMA's petition for a minimum reserve load requirement for tires but declined further comment. Mr. Shea added: ``We might not have the same views of the TPMS rule, but we agree absolutely on the importance of proper tire care.''
The RMA petitioned the agency for the minimum reserve load requirement in response to the TPMS rule's provision that the underinflation warning light will illuminate only when one or more tires fall 25-percent below the vehicle manufacturer's recommended pressure. Mr. Runge said the 25-percent differential is to protect the public from false alarms; the tire industry, however, insists that a trigger level that low will give motorists a false sense of security while causing severe damage to their tires.
Besides ACCC, the RMA's other partners include AAA, the Tire Industry Association, the National Automobile Dealers Association, the Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, 20 major tire retailers and dealership chains and all seven of the RMA's tire manufacturer members.
Some 12,000 tire stores across the U.S. participated in National Tire Safety Week last year.
For the second year in a row, Briggs & Sons Tire in Fayetteville, N.C., used the occasion to offer a ``tire smart day'' in four cities.
The dealership partnered with local law enforcement to perform child safety seat checks for drivers, and company employees distributed tire gauges and literature. They also showed drivers how to use a tire gauge and read a vehicle's tire placard.
President Barbara Briggs said the goal is to educate people.
``As tire dealers and members of the Tire Industry Association, we feel it is our responsibility to educate the public and promote tire safety,'' she said.