The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has taken the first steps toward implementation of new recall laws, with a lengthy request for public comment on tire labeling and information.

The Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation (TREAD) Act, enacted by Congress following last summer’s Ford/Firestone recall, mandates numerous changes in the way recalls are handled and product safety information is made available to the government and the public.
One requirement is that the U.S. Department of Transportation, through NHTSA, take action “as necessary” to increase public awareness of tire load limits and the importance of maintaining proper tire inflation. To that end, the agency is looking to improve the quality and usefulness of tire information, starting with a request for public comment on a variety of questions.
For instance, NHTSA wants to know if consumers are currently being given adequate information about size, load ratings, and pressure to maintain tires properly. Are tire labeling rules adequate? What about tire-related information vehicle manufacturers must provide? What information is most important for safety and recall purposes?
Do consumers read and correctly understand information now provided? Do they understand the factors that contribute to tire failure such as speed, tire inflation, pressure and weight? Do they know where to locate tire information in their vehicles? Is there confusion between a manufacturer’s recommended tire pressure and the tire manufacturer’s recommendation? Which do consumers follow?
Tire identification numbers are now required on one sidewall, but NHTSA points out that tires are often mounted so that the number faces inward, thus users must either remove the tire or slide under the vehicle to read the label. In the past, manufacturers have said there’s a safety hazard associated with putting the number on both sidewalls during the manufacturing process. NHTSA asks if those conditions may have changed and if it’s economically feasible to put the information on both sides of a tire.
Currently, maximum load ratings on tires are shown as the maximum permissible inflation pressure in pounds per square inch. Would it be more effective to use a load index number, i.e. a numerical code associated with the maximum load a tire can carry at the speed indicated by its speed symbol under specific service conditions?
What assistance do tire retailers provide consumers in selecting a tire with the correct load rating or load index for their vehicle? Is this assistance available to all customers, or only those who ask?
All of NHTSA’s questions, plus a discussion of current rules, can be found in the Dec. 1 Federal Register available at Comments are due Jan. 30, 2001 and can be submitted electronically at Reference docket number NHTSA-00-8296.