From Hawaii to New York, states across the country are moving to regulate the sale of aged tires, which experts say can prove deadly to unsuspecting motorists. Lawmakers have credited an ABC News investigation that revealed how outdated tires, even if they appear to be brand new, can be more prone to sudden, catastrophic failure.
"The story's impact has been very widespread," said auto safety expert Sean Kane of Safety Research and Strategies. "It's probably the single most important story that's been done on this issue."
Safety experts warn that after six years of age the risk increases for tires to become brittle and dried out, leading to a potential tire tread separation. "It is like a ticking time bomb," said Kane. "You don't know what's going on inside, that's what makes it so dangerous."
Safety experts have attributed 139 deaths nationwide to aged tires that failed. Among those killed was 12-year-old William Moreno of Los Angeles, CA, whose family's SUV rolled over after the tread on an aged tire separated.
In the wake of Moreno's death, California Assembly Member Mike Davis has introduced a bill that would require tire dealers to disclose the age of a tire in writing to consumers prior to the sale or installation of a tire. Dealers would also be required to retain sale documents for at least three years, and violators of the proposed law would be subject to a $250 fine. At a hearing today in Sacramento, witnesses including Sean Kane and the brother of William Moreno will testify on the bill's behalf.
In the 2008 ABC investigation, our undercover tire shoppers found tires well over six years of age being sold by major retailers. Davis credited the report with highlighting how consumers are kept in the dark regarding the age of the tires they buy.
"My staff member working on the bill happened to have seen it and was inspired by it, and felt that this was an issue that she wanted to research and bring to the attention of the legislature," said Davis.
In New Jersey, the division of Consumer Affairs is also considering a rule that would require dealers to disclose the age of tires to buyers.
Legislators are also calling for defined "expiration dates" on tires sold. In Hawaii, a group of state senators have introduced a bill that would prohibit the sale of tires that are more than six years old. A similar law in Suffolk County, NY banning the sale of tires older than six of year of age has already been adopted. The new regulation has yet to be implemented, pending legal review.
The tire industry has fought efforts to require an expiration date on tires, maintaining that age is not the key factor in tire safety and performance.
"We have taken a stand against the industry setting arbitrary replacement guidelines for tires based solely on age," said Dan Zielinsky of the Rubber Manufacturers Association, which represents tire manufacturers in the United States.
However, the British Rubber Manufacturers Association, which also includes the major tire makers, has warned that "unused tyres (sic) should not be put into service if they are over 6 years old." Ford Motor Company has also urged the federal government to impose a six year expiration date for tires.
Currently, few consumers know how to read the cryptic code embedded on a tire's sidewall that reveals the year and week a tire was manufactured. The code is at the end of a jumble of letters and numbers on the tire and, until recently, was located mostly on the inward side of the tire, forcing motorists to crawl under the car to figure out when the tire was made.
In New York State, a group of assembly members have submitted a bill that would require the date of manufacture to be "clearly molded on both sides of the tire in a non-coded fashion." Violators would face a $500 fine.
The bill, which is currently before the state Committee on Transportation, has also drawn opposition from the tire industry. "We certainly believe that markings should be uniform across states and not be set individually by states," said Zielinksky. "That goes down a very dangerous road by having potentially multiple states requiring their own separate markings on tires."
While the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) could require manufacturers to print clear manufacturing dates on tires, critics charge that NHTSA has been slow to act on the issue of aged tires. In the meantime, says Kane, state legislators will continue to try to pass their own laws to address the problem.
"The steps that they're taking are very significant steps towards moving this issue to some kind of resolve and preventing more aged tires from getting out into the stream of commerce," said Kane.