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Industry unites to fight final TPMS ruling in the courts

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The tire industry is uniting to try to get the government's final tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) ruling invalidated.

In a lawsuit against the United States Department of Transportation, four domestic tire manufacturers, the Tire Industry Association (TIA) and Public Citizen Inc. challenged the ruling's requirement that tire pressure monitoring systems only need to detect when one or more of the vehicle's tires are 25% or more below the recommended inflation pressure.

They believe a 25% drop in a tire's recommended pressure may leave the tire so under-inflated that it is unable to safely carry a fully loaded vehicle.

In a joint statement, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Bridgestone Firestone North American Tire LLC, Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. and Pirelli Tire LLC said the following:

"Safety is our highest priority. We have taken this significant step -- along with Public Citizen and the Tire Industry Association -- against NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) because we strongly believe the current TPMS rule is fundamentally flawed and as such does not fulfill the spirit of the TREAD Act.

"While we support tire pressure monitoring systems as a way to increase safety, the current NHTSA rule does not go far enough. There is technology available to provide faster, more accurate information to motorists and it should be required by this rule rather than settling for systems which are less accurate.

"The tire industry has been united in our assertions that NHTSA's current rule may give motorists a false sense of security and actually may result in less safety rather than more as the rule intended.

"No tire pressure monitoring systems should replace regular tire maintenance and inflation checks. With this rule, motorists may mistakenly feel safe, and not believe they need to check their tires. We do not share that belief and by filing this action, we are taking an aggressive step to get the rule right. We believe this step is necessary."

TIA has consistently challenged NHTSA's TPMS trigger threshold of 25% below the recommended cold inflation pressure.

"As TIA stated in our comments and our Petition for Reconsideration to NHTSA, we believe this TPMS rule is fatally flawed," says Roy Littlefield, TIA's executive vice president. "Congress charged NHTSA with creating a rule that would keep the motoring public safe. This rule does not do that, which is why we have joined in this lawsuit.

"This could be the first time in the history of rule-making that the industries impacted by a proposed regulation do not think that the proposal is stringent enough."

TIA President Dick Gust said the 25% threshold "wouldn't have prevented the Ford/Firestone mess of 2000 that began this whole regulatory process. We are afraid that this rule, if it is allowed to stand, will make consumers more apathetic to their tires and our tire retailers, manufacturers and technicians more vulnerable to lawsuits in the future."

NHTSA issued its final TPMS ruling, which mandates that all 2008 model year light vehicles are equipped with tire pressure monitoring systems, in early April.

According to results from a 2003 Rubber Manufacturers Association consumer survey, nearly two-thirds of motorists in the United States would be less likely to regularly check tire pressure with a TPMS-equipped vehicle. Other survey data shows that more than 85% of drivers do not properly check tire pressure.

In its own statement, Public Citizen, a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization, explained why it feels the final rule is flawed and should be set aside by the court.

1. "The rule... doesn't require tire pressure monitoring systems to operate with replacement tires -- a dangerous omission given that an estimated 61% of passenger and 54% of light truck mileage occurs on replacement tires."

2. "Under the rule, a malfunction light will come on to alert motorists that the system is not working with the tires. Not only would this undermine public confidence in the systems, but it would likely lead to consumers ignoring the warning light or having it disabled."

3. "Under the rule, systems need not measure tire pressure until a motorist has been driving between 30 and 60 miles per hour continuously for 20 minutes. This means that the system would be useless for someone who does a lot of city driving with attendant stops and starts; there are systems that would provide more accurate information to motorists faster."

4. "The systems are to alert motorists if any tire falls 25% below the recommended inflation pressure. A key problem, though, is that under the rule, the baseline by which the 25% will be measured will be dictated by the recommended tire pressure set by automakers.

"Because this recommendation is usually a range, and because the rule allows for a fudge factor of two pounds per square inch in the systems, this could allow some tires to be on the road at 30% underinflation or more before an alert is provided."

The lawsuit was filed late yesterday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

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