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Heated debate on proposed Md. tire age bill

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ANNAPOLIS, Md.—The sides were sharply drawn March 13 at a hearing on a proposed tire aging bill before the Maryland House Committee on Economic Matters.

Maryland House Bill 1110 would require Maryland tire merchants to give consumers a printed statement on the dangers of tire aging whenever they sell a tire that is used, recycled, retreaded or more than three years past its manufacture date. Merchants would be fined up to

$250 for each violation.

The bill is sponsored by Del. Benjamin F. Kramer, D-19th District, who last year sponsored a more sweeping bill that would have required all tire manufacturers and retailers in Maryland to inform consumers of the age of every tire they sold. United opposition from the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA), the Tire Industry Association (TIA) and the Chesapeake Automotive Business Association (CABA) helped kill that bill in committee.

In his opening statement, Del. Kramer called the earlier bill “The Lobbyists' Full Employment Act.” He implied no one could reasonably object to the current legislation—especially since it makes violations of the law inadmissible in personal injury lawsuits. “This is a much more simplistic bill than last year,” he said.

Del. Kramer noted that virtually every auto maker now advises motorists to replace tires after six years of age, regardless of tread depth, and cited research by both the auto industry and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) as proof of his position.

The RMA, however, said its own research shows no correlation between a tire's chronological age and its tendency to fail.

“The key is how a tire has been stored,” said Tracey Norberg, RMA senior vice president and corporate counsel, in her testimony. “If a tire has been stored outside, it will be subject to heat. But if it's stored in a properly ventilated area, whether or not to sell a tire is up to the retailer.”

TIA and some of its member dealers testified that the bill would create an inventory nightmare and was also completely unnecessary.

“Tires age when they go into service, but not before,” said Sam Fisher, president of Radial Tire Co. in Silver Spring, Md. “They are not subjected to heat, cold or sunlight.”

TIA Executive Vice President Roy Littlefield stressed his association's commitment to consumer safety, consumer information and state-of-the-art training for tire technicians—more than 80,000 to date, he said.

“Our motto is that if it's good for consumers, it's probably good for us,” Mr. Littlefield said.

Several tire industry witnesses objected to Del. Kramer's assertions. Lisa Harris-Jones, an attorney for the RMA, said she found “offensive” Del. Kramer's display of a set of “Speak No Evil, Hear No Evil, See No Evil” chimpanzees that he said typified the tire industry's response to tire aging.

TIA Membership Director Wilson Beach felt obliged to correct Del. Kramer's repeated use of a term for the treadless body of a tire. “The correct word is 'casing,' not 'carcass,' Mr. Beach said.



To reach this reporter: mmoore@crain.com; 202-662-7211.
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