There's no reason to believe the company-sponsored studies of the Firestone tire failures are faulty. However, there is a strong argument they aren't good enough.
The long-awaited report by Professor Sanjay Govindjee on the Firestone ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tire failures mirrors the conclusions drawn earlier by Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.'s in-house team of experts. Both cited several reasons for the ATX and Wilderness AT failures, including climate, tire design, manufacturing differences at Bridgestone/Firestone's Decatur, Ill., plant and usage factors, particularly load.
The problem is, any study paid for by Bridgestone/Firestone or conducted by the company cannot be called truly "independent." They are vital to the tire maker to determine for itself what went wrong, and learn how to prevent such a disaster from occurring again. But to satisfy the court of public opinion, there must not be even the slightest hint of conflict of interest.
Safetyforum.com, Public Citizen and the hired guns the plaintiffs' attorneys use as expert witnesses are not the answer. They have their own agendas that taint their conclusions—again, even if what they say is correct.
So where is the really independent investigative body, one that doesn't make tires, doesn't make money in court, doesn't live off publicity? In Washington—the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
NHTSA is conducting its own investigation of the tire failures, and its conclusions will carry a sense of objectivity the other parties can't claim.
One problem: It will take NHTSA as long as 12 months to complete its study. The frequent target of budget cuts, the agency lacks resources and moves like a turtle. Closure still is a long way off.