The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) plan to conduct a follow-up survey on tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) could not come at a more appropriate time.
The survey will assess the effectiveness of TPMS in older vehicles and determine ways to increase its effectiveness.
These systems have become a fixture on every new passenger vehicle sold in the U.S. following their mandate as part of the Transportation Recall Efficiency, Accountability and Documentation (TREAD) Act of 2000. Yet their effect on reducing tire underinflation has been, to say the least, underwhelming.
That's not to say these systems don't work or don't alert drivers that one or more of their tires is operating at unsafe pressure levels. They definitely do that.
It's just that many drivers apparently don't seem to care, or, if they do, simply don't understand or appreciate how important it is to keep their tires properly inflated for safety reasons as well as for better gas mileage.
We come to that conclusion after reading the latest missive from the Rubber Manufacturers Association that nearly seven in 10 vehicles in the U.S. have at least one underinflated tire.
How can that beespecially if a majority of these vehicles use TPMS to alert drivers?
While this is only anecdotal evidence, it points to an important factor involving TPMS or any other vehicle safety system. If drivers ignore the warning lights, their indifferenceyes, you can call it apathynegates the safety system's effectiveness.
This seems to be a common issue among vehicle owners. Consider, for example, how many people are driving around in vehicles with a check-engine light glowing on the dashboard.
NHTSA's upcoming TPMS survey, a follow-up to the agency's 2011 evaluation, will be more comprehensive in that it will engage motorists, suppliers and shops that repair TPMS. That's a good thing.
But we encourage the agency to include questions that help answer whether the industryfrom auto makers, to car dealerships, to auto repair shops, to tire dealersis doing an effective job of explaining to owners just what the TPMS light means and what they should do about it when it lights up on the dashboard.
Our expectation of the findings will be that, along with mandating TPMS on vehicles, the industry needs to develop an educational program to teach drivers how to react when the TPMS light comes on.
Maybe then we will begin to see a substantial decline in the number of vehicles riding on underinflated tires.