The fact that a number of major tire companies, tire industry associations as well as a consumer watchdog group are fighting the new final rule on tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) ought to raise red flags at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
How often do tire makers and the associations agree on anything, let alone side with Public Citizen, a group that has been highly critical of the tire industry for alleged indifference to driver safety?
This odd coupling is the result of real concerns about portions of the new TPMS standard. And it highlights the opposition to the provision that motorists won't see a warning light until a tire falls 25 percent below the vehicle manufacturer's recommended air pressure.
The Tire Industry Association and Public Citizen also are critical of the final rule's doubling to 20 minutes the allowable length of time between the system's picking up on a tire's underinflation and when the driver is notified.
A dose of common sense is needed here. If the auto makers must put tire pressure monitoring systems in new vehicles starting this September, as required by the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation (TREAD) Act, the new rule must offer greater safety protection for drivers.
If it doesn't-and there's concern that it won't-then the rule must be revisited and the issues addressed until a more practical rule is established.
One thing is clear: The tire industry never has been able to convince the majority of drivers to recognize the importance of maintaining their vehicles' tires-including keeping them aired up properly.
It's estimated that 85 percent of U.S. motorists don't perform air pressure checks regularly and that 27 percent of cars and 32 percent of light trucks on the road today have at least one or more substantially underinflated tires.
Even with the TPMS warning light on, it's not certain that drivers will head to the nearest air pump. One only has to look at how many vehicles operate on the road today with the check engine light on.
Knowing all this and taking into consideration human nature, it only makes sense for NHTSA to devise a TPMS standard that provides an adequate safety margin for motorists.
The agency also should encourage all those involved in the sale and servicing of tires to educate their customers on what the warning light means and why it should be heeded.
The TMPS rule has the potential to improve the safety of the driving public significantly. NHTSA must listen to the concerns of those who know tires best and revisit the TPMS issue again-and get it right this time.