May 23, 2014 -- Sen. Ed Markey, a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation, is questioning the federal agency that oversees tire safety, citing an ABC News investigation that exposed defective tires still being sold to the public.
Following Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx's appearance before lawmakers earlier this month, Sen. Markey, D-Mass., submitted a question for the record to Foxx, asking if there are plans to implement a database searchable by a tire’s TIN, or Tire Identification Number. Consumer advocates have long called for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) – the DOT’s agency charged with overseeing tire safety – to provide this feature, saying it could be used by drivers and service centers alike to quickly identify a bad tire.
An ABC News Investigation found the federal government does not provide any method for a driver to search for the history of a tire by the TIN, the number required by the Department of Transportation to be printed on the sidewall of every tire.
In referencing the ABC News investigation, Sen. Markey writes, “there is no database that is searchable by TINs on NHTSA’s database and often no way for consumers, vendors or manufacturers to quickly and easily access and read the TINs on tires themselves. This has led to accidents, injuries and deaths as people drove in vehicles with recalled tires that later failed.”
Markey has asked if the DOT would undertake the creation of a searchable TIN database and “if not, why not?”
The cryptic code known as the TIN – comprised of 11 or 12 alphanumeric characters – is used by tire manufacturers to indicate when and where a tire was made, which the industry says also helps to assess what tires are part of a recall.
In a written response to ABC News questions about the implementation of a TIN search, a NHTSA spokesperson stated only that the agency provides other means by which drivers may learn of recalls, including signing up for direct email alerts – or by following the agency on Twitter or Facebook.
The Rubber Manufacturer’s Association, the major tire industry trade group, supports the use of technology to improve the recall system, including a TIN search.
“It might be a very effective way to track a large database of recalls that span all manufacturers by potentially a government website,” RMA spokesman Dan Zielinski told ABC News. “Perhaps it should be something that should be discussed. We’d be happy to be part of that discussion.”
The absence of any government involvement with a TIN search has left the field wide open for anyone with an interest to disseminate the public data.
Atlanta attorney Matt Wetherington, who sues tire companies on behalf of consumers, is developing a searchable database that will list a tire’s manufacturing history, including age, as well as indicate if there is a recall on the tire.
The 28-year-old lawyer, who started the Tire Safety Group, says he put his own money into compiling the federal government’s own records into a user-friendly mobile app, something he says NHSTA could have done years ago.
“There’s nothing that stands in the way of anyone doing it,” Wetherington said. “The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration certainly could have produced a website that the Tire Safety Group does.”
This story has been updated.