TIA, SEMA ask for modification of tire aging bill

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The Tire Industry Association (TIA) is trying to modify a tire aging bill that that would require tire retailers to give consumers easy access to information on the production date of their tires.

Senator Mike DeWine, a Republican senator from Ohio, introduced a package of bills in the United States Senate last Friday. One of them would require "immediate rulemaking on disclosure of tire manufacture information," according to TIA.

In a letter to DeWine jointly signed by TIA and the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), the groups requested he modify the proposed legislation.

"TIA and SEMA understand the thrust of your legislation -- the need to determine if aging has a detrimental effect on tires -- but oppose the requirement for an immediate rulemaking on disclosure of tire manufacture information," they wrote. "We believe the entire issue should be studied and results published before any regulation is issued to ensure that there is no consumer confusion or undue burden placed on small business retailers and tire manufacturers."

The letter went on to explain that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been considering the issue of aging tires for at least several years, in part as a response to the recall of Firestone tires in 2000.

"We are aware that Strategic Safety also submitted a petition for rulemaking in September 2003. Section 3 of your bill would provide NHTSA with additional guidance on how to conduct the study, issues to be considered, and a time frame for completion.

"However, TIA and SEMA believe Section 2 of your bill -- to require tire manufacturers and retailers to begin disseminating information about the date of manufacture -- is premature until the tire aging studies have been completed and recommendations for action, if necessary, are made to Congress.

"If NHTSA concludes that there is a more pressing time frame for addressing the issue, it already has authority to undertake a rulemaking."

TIA and SEMA go on to discuss and explain specifically how the TREAD (Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation) Act comes into play.

"When it comes to tires, TIA and SEMA believes the public is only beginning to understand proper tire safety. Section 11 of the TREAD Act required NHTSA to conduct a rulemaking to improve the information readily available to consumers about tires.

"Correspondingly, NHTSA issued a final rule on Nov. 18, 2002, with new labeling and consumer information rules. These rules are designed to help consumers understand the importance of observing tire load limits, maintaining proper tire inflation, and becoming knowledgeable about tire size, endurance, temperature ratings, etc.

"The rules are being phased in and impose significant and ongoing financial burdens on vehicle and tire manufacturers and their distributors/dealers. An additional requirement to begin disclosing the date of tire manufacture without context (i.e. that there may be a problem regarding tire aging) would create an additional burden on the industry and cause consumer confusion at a time when the federal government is trying to simplify the message about tire safety.

"In this instance, the burden of disseminating the information would also be largely placed on small business retailers.

"Tire retailers are also being put in the situation where if they have to explain the date of manufacture code to a customer, they cannot rely on any scientific foundation to indicate that older tires are any less safe than newer tires for the desired application. Therefore, retailers will be forced to 'make it up as they go along,' which could lead to liability issues. This is an unfair burden on tire retailers.

"Without context, consumers may misinterpret the information and refuse to buy perfectly good tires or discard used tires before it is necessary. This could cause a nightmare of inventory problems for our member businesses and lead to the premature scrappage of tires, adding to environmental issues and consumer costs.

"For example, if a customer demands to buy four tires with matching date codes a retailer may not be able to comply with that request -- and there is no reason to. But if demands like that are placed on dealers, the dealers will begin requesting tires of all the same manufacture date from the manufacturers."

The letter concludes by hammering home the importance of other safety issues already being addressed.

"TIA and SEMA also feel strongly that the tire aging initiative could easily distract consumers from focusing on potentially more important safety issues such as tire inflation and overloading of vehicles."

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