With road deaths already a concern, a new spotlight shines on bad tires

agingtire-300x89With the nation’s road toll rising in already alarming fashion, Uncle Sam may need to step up information campaigns and even reconsider regulation of a greater than believed vehicle risk: aged and decaying tires.

FairWarning, an independent investigative news site, and road safety advocates deserve credit for dogging the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) about its tire-related crash data. That information, which plays a key role for policy- and law-makers in determining road safety measures nationwide, quietly got updated by federal bureaucrats. Their posted numbers suddenly indicated for 2015 that fatal tire-related crashes more than trebled from a standing figure of 200 to 719 such deaths, FairWarning and others found.

To be fair, perhaps the agency was taking to heart criticism from Randy and Alice Whitefield, statistical consultants for a company called Quality Control Systems, whose study of NHTSA data suggested flaws. These included bureaucrats’ decision to determine their figures, based on a small, selective database on road accidents, rather than using larger, more comprehensive, and equally available crash information.

The agency, however, barely acknowledged the work, supported by the independent, nonprofit Safety Institute, and later backed up by another federal agency, the National Transportation Safety Board.

Then, suddenly, safety advocates — including experts who consult with product injury attorneys — looked back and found that NHTSA boosted its numbers on crashes attributable to tire failures.

This isn’t just a kerfuffle about data, FairWarning reported.

The information disclosed is key because safety advocates have pushed federal bureaucrats, who have resisted to the joy of manufacturers, to do something about tires and their role in road safety, notably to force the industry to tell consumers when their products might be near an expiration (likely failure) date, and to consider other more rigorous steps like heightened production standards.

NTHSA and others with industry expertise, including advocates at the Tire Safety Group, have made no secret that rubber and other elements in tires degrade after a half dozen or so years, potentially leading to disastrous product failures (see illustration above to find your tire’s manufacture date). Uncle Sam has waged public information campaigns about this issue before, particularly warning about risks with spare tires and those on little-used vehicles. But regulators, citing the earlier and smaller death figures, have defended their unwillingness to go further, especially in the face of resistance from tire makers.

In my practice, I see the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, the havoc that can be wreaked on them and their loved ones by car, truck, and motorcycle wrecks, and the injury inflicted on them by dangerous and defective products.

Our vehicles especially the way we drive them— are killing us as never before. Road deaths were up 14 percent in 2016 from 2014. That’s the most dramatic increase in a half-century. More than 40,000 Americans died in motor vehicle crashes in 2016, the deadliest since 2007. The road toll was double the deaths due to murders in America and about  equal to the number of lives lost to breast cancer. The toll eased a bit in 2017, and seems to be doing that this year, thus far.

But intoxication, distraction — especially by device and due to texting — sleepiness, and impairment are fueling unacceptable death and injury on the nation’s roads.

It took decades of hard work, public education, and tough political campaigning to cut the road toll, especially by making vehicles safer. It would be unacceptable to see any roll back of that life changing and saving effort, especially if steps that are neither inconvenient nor outlandish could be taken to improve the safety of all many of vehicles rolling down the nation’s streets and highways. Is it odd that a loaf of bread or a prescription medication carries a “sell by” date but tires, a key element on which tons of glass and metal zip along, often at high speeds, does not?

Patrick Malone & Associates, P.C. listed in Best Lawyers Rated by Super Lawyers Patrick A. Malone
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