WASHINGTON — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has denied a tire importer´s claim that mismarked intermodal container chassis tires from China don´t constitute a significant safety hazard to intermodal truck fleets.
The NHTSA decision pleased the Rubber Manufacturers Association, which opposed the petition for inconsequential non-compliance that Union, N.J.-based Foreign Tire Sales Inc. sent NHTSA July 25.
While the tires might be fine in their intended use in dual use and trailer service, there is no guarantee those tires would not end up in a single-load application on the drive or steer axle of a truck tractor, the RMA and NHTSA agreed.
The 18,900 bias-ply tires, size 10.00-20, were manufactured by Wendeng Sanfeng Tyre Co. Ltd. of Wendeng City, China, and imported to the U.S. by FTS between August 2005 and April 2006. The tires are marked "DUAL USE ONLY" and "TRAILER SERVICE ONLY" but do not bear the NHTSA-required single load-carrying designation.
In its petition, FTS said it believed the markings that appeared on the tires were enough to prevent any serious safety problems. "My client´s customers understand that said tires are to be used on container chassis only," wrote Lawrence N. Lavigne, FTS´s attorney.
The non-compliance had no bearing on the tires as they are normally used, he said. FTS knew of no accidents caused by the non-compliance, and it had taken all necessary steps to end it, he said.
Lavigne enclosed the Feb. 9, 2006, letter to NHTSA by Munroe Mariner, president of China Manufacturers Alliance L.L.C. in Pocomoke, Md., who said he was to blame for telling Wendeng Sanfeng to omit the single load-carrying designation.
Also supporting FTS was Flexi-Van Leasing Inc., a large lessor of intermodal container chassis based in Kenilworth, N.J. Not only is the mismarking not a safety problem as far as Flexi-Van is concerned, but trying to find the tires in case of a recall would be extremely difficult, wrote Bernard J. Vaughan, senior vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary of the firm.
"Flexi-Van purchased over 2,000 of these tires," Vaughan wrote. "They have already been installed on Flexi-Van chassis, most of which are currently on lease to various customers. It is nearly impossible, as a practical matter, to identify which specific chassis received these tires."
The RMA, however, insisted a finding of inconsequential non-compliance was inappropriate.
"While Petitioner may not intend its non-compliant tires to be used ´anywhere other than a container chassis,´ there is no guarantee that the tires may not eventually be placed in a single load application," wrote Laurie Baulig, RMA senior vice president and general counsel. Indeed, she said, NHTSA´s rationale for requiring the single load-carrying capacity designation is that tires can end up in unintended applications.
FTS presented no evidence that the tires passed the strength and endurance tests NHTSA requires for truck tires, and it did not file its non-compliance report in a timely fashion under the law, Baulig said.
In its denial of the petition, published in the Jan. 10 "Federal Register," NHTSA said the issue of whether the tires passed the truck tire safety tests was irrelevant; the important issue was that the incorrect markings could themselves lead to safety problems.
The agency also discounted Flexi-Van´s objections. "Flexi-Van´s comments pertain to only a small portion of the subject tires and, in any case, do not negate the fact that these tires can be mounted and used in an unintended application," it said.
FTS now has the right of one appeal to NHTSA. If that fails, it will be faced with recalling the tires. Lavigne could not be reached for comment.