Tire labels can contain important information such as the age of the tire.

Tire Labels Infographic from SaferCar.gov. You can see a larger version of this at http://www.safercar.gov/tires/pages/tires_labeling.html

After a yearlong investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced October 27 that everyone on the roads is at risk of accidents caused by defective tires.

According to an ABC News report by Brian Ross, Cindy Galli, and Randy Kreider, NTSB senior staff officer Robert Molloy said the nationwide system to recall potentially dangerous defective tires is “completely broken.”

NTSB Chairman Christopher A. Hart said in an NTSB press release that the investigation found very few tires are even registered for recall purposes. That means that tire makers are not able to contact drivers if there is a need for a recall, which can put drivers and passengers in danger of a tire-related crash.

The NTSB undertook the special investigation after probes into four tire-related accidents in Florida, Louisiana, Arizona, and California in which 12 people were killed and 42 were injured. The NTSB then held a passenger tire safety symposium in December of last year to gather information and expert opinion on the factors that contribute to tire failures, which lead to more than 500 deaths in the U.S. every year.

Tire Recalls Ineffective

According to the NTSB, in a typical tire recall only about 20% of tires that need to be recalled are returned to the manufacturers. In contrast, when vehicles are recalled, about 78% of those wind up being serviced to repair the defects. The law requires that dealers and distributors controlled by the tire manufacturers to register tires when they are newly purchased. But there is no similar requirement when consumers buy tires from independent dealers and distributors. Most Americans buy their tires from independent sellers. The fact that only 10% of tires bought from independent dealers are ever registered is a critical factor in why tire recalls have not worked.

ABC News writes that its own research last May “found the government’s recall system woefully inadequate, leaving millions of tires in use, on store shelves or simply unaccounted for.” In the ABC News investigation, undercover reporters from its stations in Atlanta and San Francisco found some retail stores still had recalled tires for sale.

Tire Safety Education

NTSB writes that there is a need to educate the public about tire safety, because many drivers are unaware of the age of their tires — an important factor, even when the treads are not worn. Few drivers have an understanding of what can hasten tire aging, including: “climate, road conditions, driving habits, miles driven, and exposure to direct sunlight.” These variables can weaken tires and contribute to catastrophic failure. Moreover, NTSB Chairman Hart said most drivers do not know they need to register their tires with the manufacturer in order to be notified of a recall.

NTSB Recommendations

The board has recommended nine actions to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, including improving the registration and recall processes, launching better awareness campaigns for consumers on such things as tire aging and service life, and using technological innovations to reduce tire-related accidents. Such technology includes embedded chips or scannable codes that make it easy for auto shops to quickly identify tires.

Hart said if these recommendations are implemented, at least some of the 500 lives a year that are lost in tired-related crashes would be saved. One official said it would be good to recommend that manufacturers adopt a Tire Identification Number (TIN) lookup system on their websites. Every tire has a TIN number imprinted on its side.

Importance of Tire Age

Although safety advocates say that tires that are too old can lead to accidents, there is no law that prevents the sale of aged tires. Vehicle owners can learn the age of their tires from small codes imprinted on the tires. Ford, GM, and Chrysler recommend that tires be replaced once they are more than six years old, regardless of how much they have been used. However, tire manufacturers say there is no evidence to support a strict tire age standard.

The NTSB has reissued its two-page Safety Alert urging drivers to follow certain steps to reduce the likelihood of being in a tire-related accident. Driver: Manage Tire Risks for a Safer Ride” is free online. You can see an executive summary of the NTSB report now; the complete report will be on the NTSB website in a few weeks.

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