WASHINGTON—A safety research group with ties to trial lawyers is asking the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to initiate a recall query on the August 2000 recall of 6.5 million Firestone ATX and Wilderness radial tires.
Potentially millions of those tires still are on the road, particularly in use as spares, and they are ticking time bombs, according to Rehoboth, Mass.-based Safety Research & Strategies Inc. SRS wants NHTSA to order Bridgestone/Firestone and Ford Motor Co. to issue a general renotification of the recall.
BFS, however, while admitting that no recall campaign ever retrieves all the targeted tires, said its recall of the ATX and Wilderness tires came as close as humanly possible to that goal. Issuing a renotification, the company said, would be futile.
SRS President Sean Kane based his letter to NHTSA on various field reports and statistical analyses submitted to the agency, as well as on evidence gathered in ongoing personal injury cases regarding the recalled tires.
BFS and Ford announced the recall after NHTSA collected accident reports that ATX and Wilderness tires that were original equipment on Ford Explorers and other Ford SUVs had caused 271 highway deaths and thousands of injuries. The tires suffered tread separations, resulting in rollover accidents, the agency said.
At that time, Ford and BFS estimated that some 6.5 million of the recalled tires were still on the road, out of 14.4 million made. Kane, however, questioned the efficacy of the recall.
One statistical analysis showed that the fatality rate from accidents involving tire failures on Ford Explorers dropped significantly after the recall, but rose to pre-recall levels in 2003 and continued to rise in 2004, he said.
Such accidents, Kane added, have continued. In a news release regarding the NHTSA letter, he cited the case of Michael Enriquez, a Florida man who bought a 1993 Ford Explorer in November 2004. Six months later, a Firestone tire on the vehicle suffered a tread separation and caused a rollover, leaving Enriquez a quadriplegic. The tire that blew, Kane said, was one that should have been recovered in the recall, but instead was being used as a spare.
Particularly considering the now-advanced age of the tires, it is imperative to make sure every last one is out of service, according to Kane.
"Even if the Firestone recall is the most effective recall in history-and it may well be-the number of unrecaptured tires probably outstrips all the tires recalled in the past five years," he said.
A BFS spokeswoman, however, said the ATX and Wilderness recall retrieved more than 95 percent of the tires estimated to still be on the road in 2000.
"It was very important to us to get those tires back," she said. "We got more than 6.3 million, which means that percentage-wise the recall was very, very effective. We´re very proud of the effort we made."
The company took out full-page ads in newspapers, sent two separate notification letters to tire owners and ran television commercials on the recall featuring then-BFS President John Lampe, the spokeswoman noted. Furthermore, as part of a 2003 class action settlement, the tire maker ran another round of notifications about the recall in such mass-market publications as "Newsweek," "People," "Sports Illustrated," "TV Guide" and "Parade."
"And I don´t know if we even needed the ads for the recall, because the media made it so visible," she said. "This really was ubiquitous."