AKRON (Nov. 24, 2014) — News that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is organizing a “Passenger Vehicle Tire Safety Symposium” has caused quite a stir in the tire industry community, but the announcement raises as many questions as it answers — maybe more:
- What will the panelists discuss?
- Who will be invited to be on the panels?
- What conclusions might the symposium come to?
- Why is the trial lawyers' community so stoked about it?
But the overriding question seems to be:
- Why is the NTSB organizing a tire safety symposium?
Before attempting to provide an answer to that question, one has to look at the NTSB's legislative mandate — which is to conduct “objective, precise accident investigations and safety studies” as well as advocate and promote safety recommendations.
What the NTSB doesn't do is set standards or help write legislation. At the end of the symposium — scheduled for Dec. 9-10 at the NTSB Conference Center in Washington, D.C. — the most the agency can do is offer recommendations.
Granted, these recommendations do carry considerable weight in government circles, but in the end they are recommendations without legislative or administrative authority.
Prior to announcing this symposium, the NTSB hadn't, in recent memory, looked into any consumer tire-related issues, restricting its tire-related activities to truck/bus and/or aircraft tire issues.
So what changed?
In its Nov. 3 announcement, the NTSB cited as its reasons for organizing the forum two ongoing investigations of “tire disablement-related” (NTSB speak) vehicle accidents involving passenger tires.
In addition, ABC News aired an “investigation” May 14 into tire aging — which included several references to the NTSB's accident probes — throwing the NTSB into the middle of an issue it previously hadn't dealt with.
So when the trial lawyers' community touts that, “We fully expect the NTSB to announce in December that people should replace all tires over six years of age, regardless of the depth of the tread on the tire,” one has to remember that nothing will change legally.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which does have legal authority to write policy and influence legislation, opted just four months ago not to rule on tire aging, citing the efficacy of tire safety standards in place since 2000, statistical evidence of improving tire performance and the mandating of the use of tire pressure monitoring systems on vehicles sold since 2007.
Nonetheless, the symposium will provide a public forum on several issues critical to the tire industry.
The proceedings will be webcast, so tune in.
This editorial appears in the Nov. 24 print edition of Tire Business. Have an opinion on it? Send your comments or letter to the editor to [email protected].