Good morning and welcome to the Boardroom of the National Transportation Safety Board. I am Christopher Hart, and it is my privilege to serve as Chairman of the NTSB. Joining me are Vice Chairman Bella Dinh-Zarr, Member Robert Sumwalt and Member Earl Weener.
Today, we meet in open session, as required by the Government in the Sunshine Act, to consider a Special Investigation Report on Selected Issues in Passenger Vehicle Tire Safety.
Tires play a crucial role in our safety. We rely on them to execute innumerable stops, starts, and turns; yet most of us don’t give them a second thought.
If we are lucky, we catch tire problems early. A tire pressure monitoring system may tell us that a tire is low on air. Or, through visual observation, we might see that a tire is getting too bald in the tread. Or, a scheduled maintenance visit might uncover a tire-related issue.
But experience has demonstrated that this level of vigilance is not always adequate, and the result may be much more serious than the inconvenience of changing a tire on the side of the road.
In fact, about 33,000 times a year, a problem with a passenger vehicle tire leads to a crash. In 2013, such crashes took more than 500 lives and led to 19,000 injuries.
In 2014 we investigated four tire-related crashes, which resulted in 12 deaths and 42 injuries. In the course of these investigations we found several issue areas related to tire safety that warranted further investigation.
With the help of experts from industry, safety organizations, and government, we studied these issue areas further at last December’s tire safety symposium.
Today’s report is the outcome of these investigations, and it covers several safety issues, some of which are systemic issues that consumers cannot address on their own.
The most important of these systemic issues is that our current system for tire registration and recalls has proven to be ineffective.
Most people know that by law they must register their cars. One important function of vehicle registration is that it allows owners to be contacted in the event of a recall.
But few people are aware that tires must also be registered so that they can be recalled if they are defective.
Independent dealers – where most consumers buy new tires - are not required to register tires on the buyer’s behalf. Thus, the manufacturer cannot contact these drivers if their tires need to be recalled, placing them at increased risk of a tire-related crash.
Another important issue is tire aging. Although today’s tires are better than those made even a decade ago, all tires will still degrade with time. Yet there is little guidance available to the consumer about the importance of tire aging and what they can do to prolong the life of their tires.
Many vehicle owners do not understand that tire aging is a separate issue from tread wear. The tread on a car’s tires might show minimal signs of wear. As tires age, however, they develop flaws that are not necessarily visible but that can nonetheless lead to serious problems such as tread separation.
In this report we also consider the current state of tire maintenance by consumers, and discuss options to better educate them.
We drivers must be more vigilant about maintaining our tires for our own safety. But in order to do so, we need to know what actions to take. Where do we find the proper inflation pressure for our tires? How often should we gauge the pressure? How often should we rotate our tires, and how often should we replace them entirely? Drivers need convenient access to this information, and they need to know the importance of acting on it.
Today’s Special Investigation Report reviews education efforts to determine the extent to which proper tire maintenance is understood and practiced, and the success of such efforts to date.
The report also covers the role that vehicle and tire technology may play in preventing tire failures, and in mitigating the results of such failures.
We may or may not notice our tires every time we see our vehicles, but even if we do notice, we rarely look at them closely; and even if we look closely, tire safety issues can hide in plain sight.
Today we’ll bring these issues into the spotlight, to challenge government and industry to address systemic issues and to provide consumers with much-needed maintenance information.
Now Managing Director Tom Zoeller will introduce the staff.