WASHINGTON—Technology to allow electronic scanning of tires is the only meaningful way to reform tire recall procedures and ensure full recovery of tires in a recall, tire retailers and safety advocates agreed in a recent conference call.
The Tire Industry Association, the Safety Institute and Families for Safer Recalls joined in the call to declare their advocacy for the installation of radio frequency identification (RFID) chips or similar technology in tires, recording the tires' identification numbers and other relevant information to identify those tires that have been recalled.
“Mechanical readability will allow dealers at the point of service to make an immediate determination,” said Kevin Rohlwing, TIA senior vice president of training.
TIA and the safety advocacy groups held their conference call on the same day the Senate was scheduled to invoke cloture on a transportation funding and safety bill that includes a provision called Section 4433, requiring all independent tire dealers to register tires at the point of sale and transmit the information electronically to tire manufacturers.
“The current tire registration system is not working, and the new language calls for electronic registration,” said Dan Zielinski, senior vice president for public affairs of the Rubber Manufacturers Association, which has advocated a return to mandatory registration since a meeting of the National Transportation Safety Board in December 2014.
President Obama and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also support mandatory tire registration, judging from the administration's model transportation reauthorization bill, which contains a mandatory registration provision, Zielinski said in a telephone interview after the conference call was held.
While technological advances obviously will be important to tire registration, universal RFID is well in the future, according to Zielinski.
However, Roy Littlefield, TIA executive vice president, and Sean Kane, founder and president of the Board of Directors of the Safety Institute, insisted universal electronic readability of tires could be accomplished now. Racing and some specialty tires have used RFID technology for years, they said.
TIA and Kane's group typically have disagreed on tire-related safety issues in the past, but not this time.
“We all come back to the idea that we have a problem that needs a 21st-century solution,” Kane said. “The current bill doesn't offer that.”
The Safety Institute likes the bill's provision directing NHTSA to create a user-friendly page on its website for tire buyers to look up tire identification numbers in case of a recall, Kane said. But that would only solve part of the problem, he said.
Littlefield disagreed with the RMA about the comparative effectiveness of the old mandatory registration system and the voluntary system established by Congress in 1982.
The voluntary system now boasts a registration rate of more than 80 percent, four times the rate of the mandatory system, Littlefield claimed.
Bringing back the old system, he said, only would put 90,000 small tire dealerships and automotive repair shops in danger of ruinous fines for noncompliance.
However, the RMA maintains the registration rate figure is closer to 15 or 20 percent.
Littlefield said “Section 4433 is not the kind of meaningful reform we need. It's buried in a 500-page bill that passed the Senate Commerce Committee by a party-line vote.
“Tire manufacturers are trying to make tire dealers responsible for tire registration by reviving an archaic pencil-and-paper system that did not work in the 1970s. Congress should not pursue legislation that would place burdens on thousands of small businesses.”
If Section 4433 should become law, Littlefield and Kane said, they would still have options to get their recommendations on the books, by working with both NHTSA and Congress.