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Tire Safety Problems

The Firestone tire recalls in 2000 focused public attention on the agency's passenger car tire standard, FMVSS No. 109. The standard had not been substantively revised since first issued over 30 years ago in 1967. At that time, nearly all (more than 99 percent) of passenger car tires in the U.S. were of bias, or bias belt construction. Accordingly, the requirements and test procedures in FMVSS No. 109 were developed primarily to address bias tires.

Today, bias tires have been almost completely replaced by radial tires on passenger cars and other light vehicles. The use of radial tires has grown to the extent that they represent more than 95 percent of passenger tires in both the U.S. and Europe and are used on most other new light vehicles sold in the U.S.

NHTSA does not require that light vehicles be equipped with radial tires, but regulates radial tire performance through FMVSS Nos. 109 and 119. Radial tires are less susceptible than bias ply tires to most types of failures. Also, the switch to radial tire designs resulted in significant improvements in tire performance compared with bias ply tires. Given the superior performance of radial tires, it is easier for them than for bias tires to comply with the requirements of FMVSS No. 109.

While the durability and performance of tires have improved, the conditions under which tires are operated have become more rigorous. Higher speeds, greater loads, extended lifetimes of tires, longer duration of travel and shifting demographics of vehicles sales have all contributed to much greater stresses and strains being placed upon today's radial tires than those endured by earlier generation radial tires.

The characteristics of a radial tire construction in conjunction with present usage and purchasing patterns render the existing required minimum performance levels in the high-speed test, endurance test, strength test, and bead-unseating test ineffective in differentiating among today's radial tires with respect to these aspects of performance.

Safety Problems Associated with Tires

Essentially, the size of the tire problem has remained the same over the last eight years. With the increasing sales of light trucks, and the fact that light trucks have more tire problems than passenger cars, the problem has shifted more toward light trucks and away from passenger cars. As discussed in the NPRM, several crash files contain information on "general" tire related problems that precipitate crashes. The more recent of these files are the National Automotive Sampling System - Crashworthiness Data System (NASS-CDS)[9] and the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS).

NASS-CDS data for 1995 through 1998 indicate that there are an estimated 23,464 tow-away crashes per year coded by the NASS investigators (relying on the police report of the crash) as having been caused by blowouts or flat tires. Based on that estimate, about one-half of one percent of all crashes are caused by these tire problems. The rate of blowout-caused crashes for light trucks (0.99 percent) is more than three times the rate of those crashes for passenger cars (0.31 percent). Blowouts cause a much higher proportion of rollover crashes (4.81) than non-rollover crashes (0.28), and more than three times the rate in light trucks (6.88 percent) than in passenger cars (1.87 percent).

FARS data for 1999 through 2001 show that 1.10 percent of all light vehicles in fatal crashes were coded by investigators as having had tire problems. Light trucks had slightly higher rates of tire problems (1.34 percent) than passenger cars (0.92 percent). The annual average number of vehicles with tire problems in FARS was 528 (255 passenger cars and 273 light trucks).

A further examination of the FARS data indicates that heat is a factor in tire problems. An examination of two surrogates for heat, the region of the U.S. in which the crash occurred, and the season in which the crash occurred, indicates that the highest rates of tire problems occurred in light trucks in southern states in the summertime, followed by light trucks in northern states in the summertime, and then by passenger cars in southern states in the summertime. The lowest rates occurred in winter and fall. Based on these data, tires on light trucks appear to be more affected by higher ambient temperatures than tires on passenger cars.

Examining tire problems in the NASS-CDS from 1992 to 1999 by types of light trucks and vehicle size indicates that LT tires used on light trucks exhibited more problems than P-metric tires. LT tires are used on vehicle classes identified for this analysis as Van Large B and Pickup Large B groups of vehicles. These groups of vehicles typically consist of the -ton and 1-ton vans and pick-ups. P-metric tires are used on most of the other light trucks. The data indicate that the average percentage of light trucks in the NASS-CDS having a LT tire problem is 0.84, while the average percent of light trucks having a P-metric tire problem is 0.47 percent. These larger pickups and vans, however, carry heavier loads and may be more frequently overloaded than lighter trucks. In addition, these heavier vehicles are often used at construction sites and may be more apt to encounter nail punctures and experience flat tires. Thus, there may be usage issues that increase the percentage of tire problems for these larger trucks, rather than exclusively a qualitative difference between P-metric and LT tires.

This information came from an
NHTSA online article.

*** Any law, statute, regulation or other precedent is subject to change at any time ***

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