WASHINGTONThe National Transportation Safety Board's (NTSB) recent two-day symposium on tire safety turned into a referendum on the efficacy of the tire industry's voluntary tire registration system and yielded a near unanimous call for an accessible and searchable national database of recalled tires.
The symposiumconvened by the NTSB as a fact-finding exercise after it opened two investigations earlier this year into accidents tied to tire failuresalso brought renewed calls for bans on unsafe used tires and highlighted industry disagreement over the need for molding the Tire Identification Number (TIN) on both sidewalls.
At the symposium, Tracey Norberg, senior vice president and general counsel for the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA), called for a return to mandatory tire registration, last seen in the the 1970s, because of the woefully low registration rate among independent retailers.
From our perspective, it really would be the best approach to make the registration system mandated, Ms. Norberg said. We have had 32 years to try the voluntary route, and it has not worked.
Ms. Norberg quoted statistics showing that in 1976, when mandatory registration was law, registration rates were 90 percent or more from company-owned stores and 40 to 50 percent from independent dealerships.
Today, she said, registration rates are nearly 100 percent at company-owned storesonly Bridgestone Americas and Goodyear still operate company storesbut in the single-digit range from independent dealerships.
The consumer only interfaces with the retailer, she said, and increasing registration is really integral to increasing the effectiveness of tire recalls.
Disagreeing, however, was Kevin Rohlwing, Tire Industry Association (TIA) senior vice president of training, who said a return to mandatory tire registration would place an unfair and potentially ruinous burden on tire dealers.
The original registration law passed by Congress in the 1970s made tire dealers responsible for ensuring that tires were registered. The dealers fought to make registration voluntary, and succeeded with the passage of the Surface Transportation Act in 1982.
Fines for noncompliance with the mandatory registration law ranged from $1,000 to $6,000 per violation, with maximum fines as much as $16 million, Mr. Rohlwing said.
He did not address the issue of what percentage of tires purchased at independent tire stores are registered, saying only there is no accurate way to measure that.
The threat of bankruptcy is what retailers are being forced to face, Mr. Rohlwing said. We would be glad to do it if we had a system that worked.
Regarding the efficacy of recalls themselves, several speakers urged the government to come up with a searchable database of recalled tires.
Because there is no main database for TINs, Mr. Rohlwing said, it is extremely difficult for tire dealers or anyone else to find the TIN of a recalled tire. We need to get that information in the hands of technicians, he said, because they could spot this ahead of anything and maybe pull some of these tires out of the system.
The RMA listed mandatory tire registration as one of four recommendations to the NTSB, along with a TIN lookup tool, ending the sale of unsafe used tires and urging states to inform motorists about tire safety.
The trade group also sees linking tire registration to the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) as a possible solution to the problem of updating addresses as car owners move.
TIA, however, vowed to fight man-datory registration, accusing the RMA of making little to no effort to educate consumers about registration and recalls.
In his testimony, Mr. Rohlwing noted that the registration of child car seats, another key safety product, also is voluntary.
Mr. Rohlwing did tell the NTSB that TIA believes having the TIN molded to both sidewalls of a tire would help improve the tire registration process since consumers would be assured of having the TIN information readily available.
Based on the testimony from the symposium and followup comments to the NTSB docket, the board plans to release a report in the summer of 2015 with recommendations on how to prevent tire-related highway accidents. NTSB recommendations, however, carry no legal authority; other agencies can use the recommendations in formulating their policies.
There were six panels during the two-day program, covering different topics: Tire Disablement and Vehicle Dynamics; Identifying and Analyzing Disablement-Related Crashes; Tire Registration and Recall; Tire Aging and Service Life; Advances in Tire Technology; and Tire Maintenance and Consumer Awareness.
Twenty experts on various aspects of tires testified at the symposium. All of the topics are of crucial interest to the NTSB, according to Earl Weener, the NTSB board member who chaired the gathering.
But tire safety is finally dependent on consumers, and I have concerns that consumers don't have the information they need, Mr. Weener said.
NHTSA, TIA, the RMA, Michelin North America Inc., AAA, Rehoboth, Mass.-based safety watchdog group Safety Research & Strategies Inc. (SRS) and Consumer Reports magazine all outlined their efforts to educate consumers about tire inflation, tire care and tire registration.
A number of speakers endorsed a ban on used tires, while others supported a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chip inside the tire that would allow technicians to scan the tire for its TIN and other information.
It is shocking we cannot do machine readability and track such an important product that is highly engineered and provides great benefits to consumers, SRS President Sean Kane said. That is a disservice to consumers, and that is what leads to crashes that are preventable.
Mr. Rohlwing agreed with Mr. Kane about the value of RFID, but added that there has to be a universal bar code to prevent a welter of company bar codes comparable to the many different tire registration cards dealers receive from manufacturers.
We have to pay for universal cards, he said.