Jewish World Review
http://www.jewishworldreview.com | (KRT) Nearly half of all new light-truck and passenger-car tires might not withstand tougher testing standards that federal regulators are expected to release within days.
The new requirements from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would represent the first changes in the way tires are tested in more than 30 years. The agency first proposed new rules in February 2002.
Observers say NHTSA might subject tires to greater speeds and heavier loads during testing. Additionally, the agency might add a test that ensures tires would not fail when underinflated. The agency could announce the standards as early as next week.
Congress passed a bill requiring the new testing procedures after the 2000 recall of millions of Firestone tires, which were involved in deadly rollover accidents with Ford Motor Co.'s popular Explorer. The tires have been linked to about 270 deaths and more than 700 injuries.
And while the government and safety advocates say the new testing procedures should prevent another Firestone fiasco, the tire industry argues that the new standards might be too tough.
"The tire industry supports revising the tire testing standards, but we expect that the new tests will be responsible and reflect how tires operate in the real world," said Dan Zielinski, a spokesman for the Rubber Manufacturers Association, a trade group representing the tire makers.
The group estimates that 40 percent of passenger-car tires and more than 50 percent of light-truck tires might not pass the new tests, far greater than the 30 percent that NHTSA says would not withstand the procedures. All new tires today meet or exceed NHTSA's current testing standards.
Zielinski said NHTSA's original proposal, announced last year, would expose tires to conditions that are unrealistic. For instance, the proposal called for an increase in speed during the endurance test from 50 mph to 75 mph. Light-truck tires likely wouldn't pass this test at the higher speed due to their size, Zielinski said.
The Rubber Manufacturers Association suggested that the light-truck tire be tested at 68 mph.
Tougher standards could lead to costly design changes for tiremakers, experts say. And that could ultimately drive up the price automakers and consumers pay for tires because some of the increased costs to make the tires will have to be passed along, Zielinski said.
"The cost of making tires will increase," he said. "It's not out of the question that consumers and automakers will pay more."
Zielinski estimates, under NHTSA's initial proposal, that producing tires that could meet the tougher standards would cost the industry roughly $1 billion in the first year. NHTSA spokesman Rae Tyson wouldn't divulge details of the upcoming standards, but he said the agency has taken the tiremakers' concerns into consideration.
Sometimes the agency will revise its proposals once it hears comments from the industry. Zielinski said he doesn't know what NHTSA will roll out, but he expects the rules would be less stringent than what it initially proposed.
Keith Price, a spokesman for Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., said it's too soon to tell how the rules could affect the company. But he added that "safety has always been the company's priority and that the company has built tires beyond safety regulations."
Meanwhile, one safety group said the new rules are long overdue.
"I hope they're good ones," said Gerald Donaldson, senior research director with the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. "We thought that in many respects that they were headed in the right direction," he said of the proposed rules.
While he applauds NHTSA for rolling out new testing procedures, he said testing could be even more extensive. For instance, the agency doesn't do a wet-weather performance test on tires, even though rain plays a role in a tire's skid resistance.
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