Are Firestone Tires Safe At This Point

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Are Firestone Tires Safe At This Point? Essay, Research Paper Agency Missed Early Tire Warnings _____Correction_____ In some Sept. 12 editions, a headline in the Business section misstated how the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration handled some complaints about Firestone tires. The headline should have said, as it did in other editions, that the agency missed the complaints. By Cindy Skrzycki Washington Post Staff Writer Tuesday , September 12, 2000 ; Page E01 On Nov. 30, 1998, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration received a letter from a Ford Explorer owner who said his Firestone tire tread “peeled off like an orange.” “Imagine my shock when the mechanics looked at my tire and told me I was lucky to be alive,” the letter said, adding that

the mechanics told him that Firestone tires on Explorers “are known to lose tread and contribute to or cause Ford Explorers to flip.” This was among as many as 26 consumer complaints about Firestone tires, filed since the early 1990s, that NHTSA overlooked in January, when reviewing whether to open an investigation into reports of Firestone tire problems. NHTSA had missed the consumer complaints because of the way its database is organized: They weren’t filed under “Firestone” as tire problems; they were filed under “Ford” as vehicle problems. NHTSA, the federal agency responsible for tracking information about potential auto safety defects, did open an investigation into Firestone tires May 2–after news reports of tire failures that resulted in fatal accidents.

And NHTSA spokesman Rae Tyson said yesterday that the additional complaints would not have prompted the agency to move any sooner. In the past, the agency has opened investigations with far fewer complaints. It looked into problems with Michelin tires in 1994 based on five complaints. The overlooked complaints–detailing incidents of tire blowouts, tread separations and other accidents involving Firestone tires mounted on Ford vehicles–illustrate how difficult it has been for federal investigators to piece together a clear picture of what went wrong with the 6.5 million tires that Firestone recalled last month. The letters might have provided earlier clues to the scope and gravity of the problems–which have since been linked to 88 deaths in the United States. In January, a

safety-defects specialist with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration told his superiors in a memo that he had been monitoring Firestone-tire complaints for more than a year but had counted only seven in 1998 and eight in 1999 involving the type of tires that later would be recalled. But the specialist had missed other complaints dating back several years because when he searched the database he looked for complaints listed under “Firestone ATX” and “Wilderness” (two types of the recalled tires). The data “indicates a slight trend of failures in Firestone ATX tires,” the specialist, Steve Beretzky, wrote in the Jan. 31 memo, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post. But, he continued, “I don’t believe it is strong enough to open an initial

evaluation.” Beretzky said the number of complaints was small compared with the number of tires manufactured, and even when the agency called consumers in 1999 based on seeing a “similar trend,” the information gathered did not add up to a case. NHTSA’s Tyson said that even if the agency had taken note of the additional complaints, the number was not sufficient to have prompted it to open an investigation at that time. Opening an investigation is among the agency’s first steps in a process that can lead it to order a recall of unsafe vehicles or auto parts. Called vehicle owner questionnaires, many of these complaints include photographs of the accidents, insurance reports, and copies of letters and bills sent to Ford Motor Co. and Firestone for damage done to Explorers