District court rules against tiremakers

Aug. 3, 2006

Information that automobile and tire manufacturers submit to the government about crashes resulting in death, injury and property damage is not exempted from disclosure to the public under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), according to a ruling by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

Manufacturers are required to submit the information, referred to as "early warning data," under the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation (TREAD) Act. Tire manufacturers have complied with ruling since 2003; however, they claimed that the TREAD Act forbade its release under FOIA.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has kept the information under wraps ever since.

The Rubber Manufacturers Association, which intervened in the litigation, is considering its options. Appeal is one option, according to Dan Zielinski, vice president of communications.

"We would appeal the court's interpretation that the TREAD Act seems to allow for dislosure of early warning information."

Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group, filed a lawsuit in 2004 to get the information released to the public. Rulings by U.S. District Judge Richard Leon on March 31 and July 31, 2006, have paved the way for this to happen.

Under the March 31 ruling, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will have to re-issue its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking concerning early warning reporting regulations. The judge said the final rule didn't reflect what NHTSA originally proposed, and as such did not provide enough opportunity for proponents and opponents to comment.