Safety Advocates and Families Call on Congress to End Secrecy on Vehicle Safety Data and Close Recall Loopholes

REHOBOTH, Mass., July 10, 2007 -- In the wake of a June recall of allegedly defective Chinese-made light truck tires, safety advocates and an attorney representing the families of three men involved in a deadly crash have asked members of Congress to make automotive defect information public and to close a loophole in the regulations regarding importers' ability to recall defective products.

Last month, Foreign Tire Sales of Union, N.J. appealed to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for help in recalling an estimated 450,000 light truck tires after the company allegedly learned that the manufacturer, the Hangzhou Zhongce Rubber Company, had left a critical component out of the tire. The steel-belted radial light truck tires, sold under the names Westlake, Telluride, Compass and YKS, were implicated in the August 2006 deaths of Rafael B. Melo and Claudeir Jose Figueiredo in a rollover crash, and Carlos Souza, who was seriously injured. The Melo, Figueiredo, and Souza families sued FTS and Hangzhou Zhongce in May sparking the recall.

FTS reported to the federal agency that the company suspected that something was wrong with the tires as early as October 2005, when it examined a tire involved in a property damage claim and found the gum strip, a feature designed to keep the belts from separating, was missing. FTS said it was further alarmed by a sharp increase in the number of warranty adjustments on the tires. According to FTS' defect report, additional testing and evaluations continued to confirm their concerns about the safety of the tires.

Initially, FTS said that it lacked the financial resources to collect, dispose of and replace the allegedly defective tires. But after NHTSA ordered it to conduct a recall, FTS announced a consumer-remedy plan.

Safety Research & Strategies, a vehicle safety-consulting firm, located in Rehoboth, Mass., along with Jeffrey Killino, a Philadelphia, PA product safety attorney representing the families of the men who were killed and injured in the August 2006 crash, have written to the members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation to raise concerns about the continued secrecy of NHTSA's Early Warning Reporting data, which is required under a provision of the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation (TREAD) Act.

"This tragedy contains lessons for regulators - that this public safety information needs to be public,'' said Killino, of Woloshin & Killino. "The Melo, Figueiredo and Souza families are hoping that those lessons will be applied to future defect cases and raise the level of vehicle safety for everyone."

The TREAD Act was passed in October 2000, in response to the controversy over the safety of Ford Explorers equipped with Firestone Wilderness / ATX tires. The SUV's tires wound up shouldering the blame for a spate of Explorer rollovers that killed at least 270 people, according to an official NHTSA tally. Since 2003, auto, tire and other equipment manufacturers have been required to submit certain types of data-warranty claims, production numbers, property damage claims, injury-causing and fatal incidents, consumer complaints and field reports-as part of an early warning system to alert regulators to defects. The rules themselves have been contentious, and manufacturers and safety advocates have fought in federal court over the data's accessibility.

"Secrecy and data on product safety don't serve the public. Given the enormous magnitude of the EWR data and limited government resources available, public scrutiny will only enhance NHTSA's ability to identify potential safety threats," said Sean Kane, president of Safety Research & Strategies. "The government routinely relies on the public to help identify risks to public safety - like potential terrorist attacks, for example. This is really no different."

The recall also brings to light a gap in the regulations that allows an importer to sell an automotive component in the U.S. without having the financial capability to launch a recall if needed. According to NHTSA, FTS isn't the first importer to discover a major defect and then claim that a recall would bankrupt the company.

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