Disney at Clemson: TREAD Act 'will affect everyone'

March 27, 2002

"The most immediate and complex issue facing the tire industry and our association is the proposed wide ranging regulations tied to the TREAD Act," said Steve Disney at the Clemson University Tire Industry Conference last week.

In his speech to attendees, Disney, president of the Tire Association of North America (TANA), outlined the general concepts and ramifications of the legislation being drafted.

The resulting regulations "will affect everyone engaged in any sector of the tire business," he said. "There are over a dozen rulemakings proposed concerning many aspects of our industry.

"Though the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation Act, commonly known as the TREAD Act, was passed by Congress in reaction to the Firestone tire recall of August 2000, not all of the regulations pertain exclusively to recall processes and procedures as the name may suggest. In fact, tire design testing and manufacturing are covered, as are proper fitment, usage, maintenance and even reporting of tire problems.

"Manufacturers of tires and vehicles will find many new and expensive changes to the way they do business, as will virtually all businesses that sell and service tires."

Disney focused on four of the proposed National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) rulemakings. TANA and the International Tire & Rubber Association (ITRA), which will merge in July, have "devoted volunteer, staff and consultant resources to these issues and has worked closely with the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) and other groups in preparing comments to NHTSA concerning the proposed rules."

1. Tire pressure monitoring systems. These systems will be required on all vehicles in the future, he said. "Unfortunately, there is no consensus on the type of system to employ or the appropriate level of underinflation at which the system should warn drivers.

"The government, particularly the Office of Management and Budget, seems to be leaning towards indirect monitoring systems. Direct systems, which are favored by TANA/ITRA and the RMA, measure the actual pressure inside each tire and send a warning to the dashboard based on a predetermined level of underinflation.

"Currently, NHTSA is proposing 20 psi as the threshold for warning a driver. TANA/ITRA and the RMA believe the warning should be activated at a higher level. Most of NHTSA’s documentation refers to the manufacturer's recommended pressure, but they mean the vehicle manufacturer, not the tire manufacturer.

"This reflects the general notion that the vehicle manufacturer should be the arbiter of proper tire pressure rather than the companies that design and build the tires. Yet when NHTSA conducted the field research upon which their proposed regulations are based, the majority of tire users indicated that they refer to the sidewall of the tire for inflation information, which comes from the tire manufacturer, rather than the vehicle placard information, which comes from the vehicle manufacturer.

"Our Association is also concerned about the servicing of these systems in the future. We believe that all vendors of tire and auto service should have access to the information, technology, parts and tools needed to properly service tire pressure monitoring systems. In fact, this would become a component of the industry standard for training and certification programs for tire dealers that TANA/ITRA is currently expanding."

2. A revised Tire Safety Standard. "The most sweeping changes from the TREAD Act will likely result from the proposed update of FMVSS109, the Tire Safety Standard of 1968," said Disney.

"All tires made and sold in the U.S. today must comply with this standard, which was adopted by the federal government when few, if any, radial tires existed -- tires lasted about half as long as today, you had to change tires twice a year for weather considerations, and pick-up trucks, vans and SUVs were a tiny fraction of the vehicle population.

"Many parties recognized that the standard was outdated, and to their credit both the tire manufacturers, through the RMA, and NHTSA were making an effort to update well before the Firestone recall of 2000.

"Congress and NHTSA want better tires. The revised standard places particular emphasis on improving the ability of tires to withstand the effects of heat build-up, low inflation and aging. NHTSA has developed a new series of tests and parameters that all tires will have to meet.

"Unfortunately, the TREAD Act contained very limited time for NHTSA to develop new rules and standards. NHTSA has also acknowledged the difficulty in quantifying the benefits of these proposed new standards due to the multiplicity of factors contributing to crashes and the difficulty of assigning a contribution to each factor.

"Thus," said Disney, "NHTSA believes its regulations may result in better tires, but can’t make a valid estimate that any real improvements in safety will result.

"NHTSA estimates that about 23,000 crashes occur annually from 'blowouts or flats,' but they provide no data to quantify whether or not these were the result of faulty design, materials or manufacturing of the tires.

"As we all know, tire failure can easily be attributable to road hazards, over-loading, over- or under-inflation, improper fitment or application and a variety of vehicle mechanical conditions. These factors are largely the responsibility of the user.

"Unfortunately, the TREAD Act and its resulting regulations assign no responsibility to the user of our industry’s products. This, then, will become a core part of the mission of TANA/ITRA on behalf of the tire industry.

"We simply must make the consumer aware of the consequences and benefits of proper tire maintenance and how their usage and vehicle condition contribute to safe reliable performance of their tires.

"Much has already been done in this arena. TANA/ITRA has partnered with RMA in their 'Be Smart, Play Your Part' consumer tire education campaign. We’ve also partnered with NHTSA in their effort, called 'Tire Safety, Everything Rides On It.'

"TANA/ITRA will be very active in the coordination of a 'National Tire Safety Week' in cooperation with RMA. All of these efforts are just the beginning of what will need to be a long-term commitment by all of us to educate consumers."

The need for education goes beyond consumers and users of tires, according to Disney. "In fact, with a better trained and educated work force in the service bays and at the point of sale, we will find the consumer will develop more respect for our products and services.

"To this end, TANA/ITRA is improving its training and certification programs and redoubling (its) efforts to train as many tire sales and service personnel as possible, particularly in the auto and light truck areas.

"Our goal is to have a training and certification program that is considered to be the standard for the tire industry.... We feel there is a benefit to having an industry-wide program, provided by a neutral non-profit, that can be seen by the public as an indication of training excellence. Just look at ASE as an example of how that idea can work."

3. Information or labeling rules. "Revisions to the Tire Identification Number will prove to be very expensive for manufactures of new tires and for retreaders," said Disney. "Investments in molds will be significant and reworking them will be time consuming.

"The process of manufacturing will be slowed down significantly for the safety of the worker loading the TIN in both sides of a mold cavity. In addition, the current arrangement of letters and numbers representing plant code, shift and week of manufacture are to be re-arranged, resulting in the need for all in our industry to understand and supply information in two different systems for a period of many years.

"The costs in mold investments, lost productivity in manufacturing and dealing with two data systems concurrently will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and ultimately be born by consumers in higher tire prices."

4. An early warning reporting system. "While I’m not qualified to render a judgement on the current system, I can say that I have great doubts about the benefits of 'field reporting' of tire problems as described in the proposed rules," said Disney.

"Unfortunately, very few, if any, consumers are qualified to ascertain if a tire has failed due to a design, workmanship or materials cause. Even worse, altogether too many individuals who work in the selling and servicing of vehicles in general, and tires specifically, are, likewise, unable to make a qualified determination of the cause of a tire failure.

"Due to the litigious nature of our society today, tire manufacturers in particular will be closely scrutinizing these NHTSA proposals. This could end up changing the way tires are adjusted, affecting manufacturers, distributors, dealers, and consumers as well.

"In any event, TANA/ITRA has already begun the effort to create a training program to educate tire sales and service personnel about tire failure analysis. Our Training and Education Committee and staff members will collaborate with a wide range of parties from the manufacturing, service and repair segments of the industry."

Disney said all TANA's efforts in training and education, government affairs and membership services will be influenced by its desire "to promote the image of the tire as a finely tuned product of advanced design, materials and technology."

The Clemson Conference was held March 20-22 at the Crowne Plaza Resort on Hilton Head Island, S.C.