Your life could depend on it. But justice cannot be hurried, at least not in the District of Columbia Circuit of the Federal Appellate courts. You see, they don’t drive very fast in D.C. The “beltway” is pretty much a parking lot most of the time. Why it’s filled with so many BMW ’s is another question, since there ain’t no “ultimate driving” available anywhere in the area.
But, we digress:
Did you know that Ralph Nader’s Public Citizen interest group had joined with the Tire Manufacturer’s Association, Goodyear, Bridgestone/Firestone, Cooper Tire, and others to sue the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and that the regulation which is the subject of the suit has already gone into effect, even though the suit was filed three years ago?
And that your life could depend on it?
Here is the deal – your tax dollars at work.
You undoubtedly remember all those Ford Explorer/Firestone Tire rollover accidents from the late 1990’s. They’re still around. Just last week, the Florida Court of Appeals reversed a $60 million verdict against Ford resulting from a 1997 accident. The judge had allowed the jury to be influenced by the stories of other accidents, without proof that the one which killed the $60 million dollar man was similar to them. (The decedent was 17. His parents got $30 million each for the psychic trauma of his loss.)
So, Congress passed a law requiring warning systems to alert a driver to a low pressure tire and gave the job of figuring out regulations to implement that to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Which proposed a regulation.
The regulation requires an alert if a tire is 30% below proper inflation. So, if proper inflation is 30 psi, you can drive forever at 22 psi, and no alert will sound. The regulation does not require a specific psi display, either. So, even if you’re interested, there won’t be a read-out with the information. Sure, car manufacturers can and do provide better systems. But they’re not required to do so – which means that when those nice Chery vehicles come here as Dodges, they’ll have the federal minimum, no more. Plus, there is that whole class of drivers that won’t bother to check tire pressures, even if the system would tell them. They’re the ones that only pay attention to a big red light on the instrument panel. They won’t see that red light, because there won’t be one, until they have a tire that’s 30% too low.
And here is the truly hilarious part:
The regulation would not have prevented a single one of the Explorer deaths, because “properly inflated” is defined as the vehicle manufacturer’s recommended pressure.
Do the math: Firestone said the tire should have been at 30 psi. So, 30% of that is 9 psi, and the alert would be at 21 psi. But Ford said 26 psi. 30% of that is 7.8 lbs. So the alert doesn’t go off until 18.2 lbs.
At 18.3 lbs, were the exact same scenario as caused the Explorer accidents to occur under the new NHTSA regs, there would be no alert, even though the tire was almost 50% underinflated.
But, after ignoring all of the adverse public comment, NHTSA this regulation mandatory. Effective with the 2008 models.
They did this in 2005.
Right after they did this, NHTSA was sued.
It is worth noting who sued them: Public Citizen, which is Ralph Nader’s corporate alter ego, the Tire Manufacturer’s Association, which is every company worth mentioning that makes and sells tires in the U.S., and Goodyear, Firestone/Bridgestone, and Cooper, in their own names, just to make sure the TMA didn’t wimp out.
The basis for the suit? The regulation is dangerous. NHTSA is supposed to be acting for the public benefit. This regulation stands to get people killed. It also stands to get the tire companies sued, but they may actually have an altruistic motive here. It’s not just that they don’t want to be bankrupted by trial lawyers. It’s that they’d like people to have enough understanding of the product that they will appreciate what it can, and cannot, do.
Public Citizen and the TMA joining in a suit against the feds is sorta like GM and Ralph Nader both saying that the federal agency has been unfair to Chevrolet.
When Ralph Nader and the tire manufacturer’s agree, wouldn’t logic say you ought to listen?
Not to NHTSA.
Nor, apparently, to the Courts.
The lawsuit was filed in 2005. The last document required for a decision by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which is the court required to decide review of administrative regulations, was filed in February of this year.
The Court has yet to issue a decision.
The Court can afford to wait.
When the next 17 year old dies because a tire was underinflated, his parents will sue the car company and the tire manufacturer, and the costs of defending that lawsuit will be there for you to pay when you buy your next car or your next set of tires.
But it will be the judges and the solons at NHTSA – the government - who should bear the responsibility and who, cleverly, have enacted laws that say they are immune from suit.
You see, it isn’t fair to sue them. Were that to occur, there would be so many lawsuits that all they’d be doing is defending against lawsuits.
Maybe it’s time they should be.