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Old 06-24-2003, 03:20   #1 (permalink)
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United States :Tire safety standards toughened

SUVs, other light trucks affected

June 24, 2003
BY CRAIG LINDER
STATES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- For the first time, tires used on sport-utility vehicles and other light trucks will have to meet the same performance standards as passenger-car tires, under federal regulations issued Monday.

The change is part of a package of strict safety standards for tires that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is putting into place following the recall of millions of Firestone tires in 2000.

In addition to eliminating the distinction between tires used on passenger cars and those used on light trucks, NHTSA will also increase the distance and speeds over which tires are tested and require minimum performance levels for underinflated tires.

"Without question, these new performance requirements will help improve tire safety," NHTSA chief Jeffrey Runge said in a statement announcing the new rules.

Congress ordered the auto-safety agency to overhaul its tire-testing procedures after Firestone ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires made by Bridgestone Corp. were linked to scores of deadly rollover accidents involving Ford Motor Co.'s popular Explorer SUV.

Bridgestone recalled 6.5 million of the tires in August 2000, but not before the Firestone-Explorer combination led to about 270 deaths, 700 injuries and leadership crises at both companies.

The agency's revised tests will increase the maximum speed at which tires are tested from 85 miles per hour to 99 m.p.h., while the modified endurance test will evaluate tires running for 34 hours at 75 m.p.h., up from the current 50 m.p.h. level.

A third revised test would require tires on a fully-loaded vehicle to be able to run at 20 pounds per square inch for 90 minutes at 75 m.p.h. without cracking, splitting or losing air pressure.

The tire-inflation test may be the most significant portion of the new NHTSA rules because investigators believe the Explorer rollover accidents were caused when the tread separated on underinflated Firestone tires.

If a tire is underinflated, more of its sidewall comes into contact with the pavement, which can lead to cracking, peeling or a complete failure of the tire. The same legislation that called for the revised tire-safety rules also requires automakers to include tire-inflation sensors on new vehicles.

Between 5 and 11 percent of the tires currently on the market would fail the new tests, which are slated to take effect in 2007, said NHTSA spokesman Tim Hurd.

Tire manufacturers, who had feared that the safety agency would adopt a slate of regulations that could force nearly half of the current tires off the market, said the changes represented a mixed bag for the industry.

'There are some aspects of the final rule that reflect what we proposed and there are some aspects that don't," said Dan Zielinski, a spokesman for the Rubber Manufacturers Association, the Washington lobbying group that represents tire makers.

The tire makers' association had hoped that NHTSA would hold light-truck tires to lesser standards than passenger tires due to differences in the testing process for the two types of tires, but the safety agency rejected that argument.

Eron Shosteck, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said he could not comment on the new tire tests because the automakers' lobbying group was still reviewing changes.

In a victory for both trade groups, the safety agency backed away from mandating several other tests, after automakers and tire manufacturers complained that the assessments would cost them millions of dollars while doing little to improve highway safety.

NHTSA scuttled a proposal that would have raised the amount of pressure tires must endure before separating from a vehicle's rims, one that would have required tires to withstand road hazards without sustaining major damage, and a test that would have evaluated the effects of aging on tires.

A spokesman for U.S. Rep. W.J. (Billy) Tauzin, the Louisiana Republican who heads the House committee that wrote the tire-standards bill, cautiously praised NHTSA's changes and said the nearly 35-year-old series of tests needed to be updated.

"We're encouraged by the actions taken today by NHTSA. Clearly these are common-sense safety requirements which will save lives and prevent needless tragedies," said Tauzin spokesman Ken Johnson. "It was apparent to us at the time that current law was weak and needed to be improved."
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