Court of appeals rules against tiremakers on 'early warning reporting' issue

July 23, 2008

The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has ruled against the Rubber Manufacturers Association in a case involving the public disclosure of certain information collected under the government's Early Warning Reporting System.

The court upheld a decision by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that determined certain early warning reporting data was not exempted from disclosure to the public under the Freedom of Information Act (see "District court rules against tiremakers," Aug. 3, 2006).

Manufacturers are required to submit information about crashes resulting in death, injury and property damage to the government under the TREAD Act. Tire manufacturers have complied with ruling since 2003; however, they claimed that the TREAD Act forbade its release under the Freedom of Information Act. The court of appeals concluded that the "plain language" of the TREAD Act said otherwise.

The RMA addressed its most recent setback in the following statement:

"(The) decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is unfortunate and may lead to the release of inaccurate, unsubstantiated information about tires and automotive equipment.

"Much of the information filed under the early warning reporting system often consists of raw and often unverified allegations. As a consequence, it is extremely likely that some consumers' claims will, in fact, turn out to have been mistaken. However, tire manufacturers must report these unsubstantiated allegations because the Early Warning Reporting System requires only "minimal specificity" for filing claims.

"Additionally, the system does not allow tire manufacturers to correct data even if it is discovered that a particular consumer claim was unjustified or was made against the wrong tire company.

"Due to the fact that this information includes mere unsubstantiated claims, this raw, early warning data should not be considered by consumers to be an accurate gauge of performance or reliability for any tire. Early warning information is appropriately reported to the nation's highway safety agency that has the ability and resources to evaluate and analyze the data for potential safety issues.

"Should officials with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration find that a safety investigation is warranted, the public should then be notified so that remedial action can be considered.

"With this decision, unverified information released by the government can be misinterpreted and, thereby unnecessarily alarm motorists about products that are safe. At the same time, safety regulators will be forced to needlessly expend finite public resources responding to such public alarm generated by the raw and unverified allegations."

According to Dan Zielinski, senior vice president of public affairs, the RMA and its members "are reviewing the decision to ascertain potential next steps."

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