WASHINGTON – In a special investigation report on tire safety adopted by the National Transportation Safety Board today, the NTSB found that the way tires are currently registered and recalled is ineffective. It also said there is insufficient guidance by the tire and automotive industries on the risks associated with tire aging.
“Our investigation revealed that very few tires are actually registered for recall purposes,” said NTSB Chairman Christopher A. Hart. “So manufacturers cannot contact drivers if their tires need to be recalled, which can place the drivers and their passengers at risk of a tire-related crash.”
The NTSB undertook the special investigation following probes into four tire-related accidents in Florida, Louisiana, Arizona and California that killed 12 people and injured 42 others. The NTSB then held a symposium on passenger tire safety in December of last year to gather information and expert opinion on the factors that contribute to tire failures that lead to more than 500 deaths in the U.S. every year.
Investigators said that for the 3.2 million tires recalled from 2009-2013, the recall completion rate was only 44 percent; this rate includes tires no longer in service. In a typical tire recall, the NTSB said, only about 20 percent of affected tires are returned to the manufacturer. By contrast, about 78 percent of vehicles recalled due to other defects are eventually serviced.
Although dealers and distributors controlled by the tire manufacturer are required to register newly purchased tires on behalf of the consumer, no such requirement exists for independent dealers and distributors, which is where most Americans purchase tires.
The report includes estimates given by the Rubber Manufacturers Association at the Board’s recent symposium on passenger tire safety. That estimate puts registration at nearly 100 percent in manufacturer-controlled dealerships, but at only 10 percent among independent dealers. Investigators said that the lack of tire registration is a major contributor to the ineffectiveness of tire recalls.
Investigators also said that many drivers had an inadequate understanding of the need to be aware of the age of their tires, even if the tread is not worn, and few drivers know about the numerous factors that can accelerate tire aging, including climate, road conditions, driving habits, miles driven, and exposure to direct sunlight, all of which can weaken tires and increase the risk of a catastrophic failure.
The report also includes a discussion of the promise of technology in mitigating risks of tire failures.
As a result of the study, the NTSB made nine recommendations to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to improve registration and recall processes, develop better guidance for consumers on issues related to tire aging and service life, and promote technological innovations that will reduce tire-related crashes. The NTSB also made recommendations to AAA, the Rubber Manufacturers Association and tire manufacturers.
“Today’s recommendations, if acted upon, hold the promise of saving some of the more than 500 lives lost to tire-related crashes every year,” Hart said. “Better tire registration processes, more accessible tire-recall information, and ultimately better recall completion rates will be crucial to reducing tire-related crashes and deaths.”
In today’s meeting, investigators also emphasized the important role that consumers play in maintaining the tires on their vehicles. Because regular maintenance is crucial to tire safety, the NTSB also re-issued a two-page Safety Alert encouraging drivers to take steps to reduce the risk of getting in a tire-related accident. The Alert, “Drivers: Manage Tire Risks for a Safer Ride,” is available here: http://go.usa.gov/c3pnQ.
An executive summary of the report, including findings and safety recommendations, is available at http://go.usa.gov/c3pQH. The full report will be posted on the NTSB website in several weeks.
Investigator’s presentations and Chairman Hart’s opening and closing remarks at today’s meeting are available here: http://go.usa.gov/c3pNd.