At a recent meeting in Washington, accident investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board, reported that the federal recall system that is supposed to keep potentially dangerous car tires off the road is “completely broken.” While each year tire problems cause 33,000 accidents, and only one in five defective tires is being taken out of service via recalls. Investigators found that more than half of recalled tires remain in use.
Last year the NTSB estimated there are “400 to 500 deaths a year, at least, from crashes involving tire-initiated events,” including tires that could have been underinflated, punctured or suffered from other pre-existing problems. The Rubber Manufacturers Association disputed that number, putting the estimate at approximately 200 fatalities per year, citing other NTSB figures.
The problem, according to an NTSB report, is that tire manufacturers can’t reach tire owners to warn them. Since most independent tire dealers aren’t required to register the tires they sell with manufacturers, they don’t. Though 3.2 million tires were recalled between 2009 and 2013, most of the drivers using them were unaware of the recalls.
The investigation was launched by the NTSB last May in the wake of a deadly traffic accident involving a tire that had been recalled
Sean Kane, the founder of Safety Research and Strategies, a firm that monitors potential hazards in consumer projects, said drivers would be surprised to learn that there’s no government or industry database to notify owners or mechanics about recalled tires. Kane told the panel that consumers are shocked to be told that when they go into a shop to have their tires inspected, many times no one can tell them whether or not they have a recalled tire.
At Tuesday’s meeting, investigators gave examples of fatal accidents linked to defective tires, including a multi-passenger van that crashed in Lake City, Florida in 2014. The driver thought he had an issue with a tire, but since the defect was internal couldn’t find the problem and kept driving. The tire failed and the van flipped over. Two passengers were killed eight were injured.
The tire had been recalled more than a year earlier because of an internal defect, but hadn’t been registered with the tiremaker.
But NTSB officials also said their department and manufacturers can do better to make it easier for consumers to tell if they tires are under recall. One way, an official said, was to recommend that manufacturers to adopt a Tire Identification Number (TIN) lookup system on their websites. Each tire already has its own TIN imprinted on the side of the tire. Manufacturers could also employ newer technology on the tires themselves in form of embedded chips or scan-able codes to help auto shops quickly identify tires, the NTSB said, and update customer contact forms to ensure consumers get recall notices when they go out.