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A civics lesson.

We are sure getting a civic lesson from the attempt to install tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) on vehicles. All three branches of the government have been involved, and like many things that pass through this triumvirate, we're back to square one.

Congress got the ball rolling in response to the Ford Explorer rollover problem that was exacerbated if the vehicle encountered a tire blowout. Congress ordered the executive branch of the government to produce a regulation that would monitor the tire pressure. The Department of Transportation drafted a regulation that was influenced by the Rubber Manufacturers Association, but the automakers didn't like it. Like many regulations, the automakers could throw more money toward passing their version, and in the end, the executive branch ordered the automakers' favored TPMS to be the regulation.

The legislative branch of the government became involved when three consumer safety groups filed suit in federal court. The court ruled, what everybody knew, that the regulation was "arbitrary and capricious." It also added that the system proposed by the government would fail half the time, and that the other system "would prevent more injuries, save more lives and be more cost-effective."

This could be viewed as a setback to the automakers, but is it? Instead of having a half-safe system being installed beginning in November, we will have no system. The regulation has to be redrawn, and there is no guarantee that the better TPMS will be the choice. It could be years before an effective TPMS is standard equipment.

But that might not be such a bad thing. A recent survey taken by the RMA shows that any TPMS might create a false sense of security, even to those who check their tires regularly.

The RMA survey shows that the frequency of motorists checking tire pressure would drop 25% in vehicles equipped with a TPMS. Drivers will incorrectly believe their tires will be properly inflated when the indicator light is off. The RMA has petitioned for a regulation requiring vehicle tires to have a "reserve inflation pressure," which is far more effective.

The stakes are high for the tire industry, as it seems that no matter how grossly negligent motorists are about their tires, it ends up being the tire manufacturer's fault should the tire encounter a problem. And if you couple this with a vehicle design defect, the jury awards are astronomical. Hopefully, the automakers will allow an effective regulation to be implemented.
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Title Annotation:Editorial
Author:Smith, Don R.
Publication:Rubber World
Date:Sep 1, 2003
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