A study sponsored by The Safety Institute and conducted by Quality Control Systems Corp. shows an increase in tire related fatalities by 10.6 percent from 2013 to 2014. While deaths rose from 539 total deaths in 2013 to 596 deaths in 2014, the same study indicates fatalities for all other kinds of crashes involving passenger vehicles increased by only 0.3 percent in the same time frame.
This is in stark contrast to data released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). While NHTSA has not released data about 2013-2014, in previous years it has maintained that the fatality count in tire-related crashes is only one-third as large as that documented in the present TSI-sponsored study – 195 deaths counted by NHTSA in 2007-2010 compared to 596 counted in the TSI-sponsored study in 2014 and presented at the National Transportation Safety Board Tire Safety Symposium. The agency’s March 2014 study, Tire Aging: A Summary of NHTSA’s Work, claims:
“2007-2010 NASS-CDS data from tire related crashes compared to 1995-2006 data shows a 35% reduction in tire crashes, a 50% reduction in fatalities and a 42% reduction in injuries.” This 50% reduction in fatalities claims a drop from 386 to 195 fatalities when compared with annual averages from 1995 through 2006.
NHTSA repeats this annual estimate fatality figure in its TireWise education campaign — “almost 200 people die in tire-related crashes.”
The wide disparity in the TIS and NHTSA figures is attributable to each entity’s data sources and the way tire-related deaths are counted. TSI bases its crash-death numbers on data drawn from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) database, a nationwide census of all traffic related fatal injuries, maintained by NHTSA. Further, the TSI study counts all deaths in tire-related crashes, including pedestrians, and occupants of other vehicles struck by the vehicle with the tire failure.
NHTSA derives its tire-related crash fatality figures from the Crashworthiness Data System (CDS) a small random sample of about 5,000 police-reported tow-away crashes involving passenger vehicles. NHTSA uses CDS for a variety of purposes, but its main focus is on vehicle crashworthiness, the performance of safety systems, and the relationship between crashes and injuries. The agency only counts a tire-related crash death if it occurs in the vehicle that suffered a tire failure.
CDS, however, has a limited ability to present a complete picture of tire-related crash fatalities for several reasons. First, CDS is a small sample, and therefore subject to large sample error. Second, CDS’s emphasis is on crashworthiness, and not crash causation, so there is less incentive to include information about the crash cause. For example, the source of many crashes involving departures from the roadway or travel lane is not investigated in CDS. Finally, since 2009, CDS does not have to present complete data for passenger vehicles that are more than 10 years old.
TSI believes that these factors have led NHTSA to severely under-count tire-related crash deaths.
“Tire safety issues have historically been overlooked and underappreciated,” said Sean Kane, TSI founder and president. He added, “findings from this TSI sponsored study highlight the need to better understand the reasons for the increase and what it means with respect to current NHTSA regulations and enforcement actions.”
In contrast to NHTSA’s official statistical analyses, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has relied on the same methodology and data as that are used in the TSI-sponsored study to count tire-related fatalities. In an October press release announcing the release of it passenger tire safety study, the board stated, “The NTSB then held a symposium on passenger tire safety in December of last year to gather information and expert opinion on the factors that contribute to tire failures that lead to more than 500 deaths in the U.S. every year.”
As a result of NTSB’s study, nine recommendations were made to NHTSA:
- Seek authority to require all tire dealers to register tires at the point of sale, and then require them to do so.
- Develop voluntary standards, in consultation with tire industry leaders, for a computerized method of capturing, storing, and uploading tire registration information at the point of sale.
- Include fields on the tire registration form for the purchaser’s e-mail address, telephone number, and vehicle identification number to assist manufacturers in locating and notifying owners of recalled tires.
- Require tire manufacturers to include the complete tire identification number on both the inboard and outboard sidewalls of a tire.
- Require tire manufacturers to put the safety recall information for their tires on their websites in a format that is searchable by tire identification number as well as by brand and model; if necessary, seek legislative authority to implement this recommendation.
- Modify the tire recall search feature on your website to allow users to search for recalls by tire identification number as well as by brand and model.
- Determine the level of crash risk associated with tire aging since the implementation of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard Nos. 138 and 139; if, based on this determination, it appears that the aging-related risk should be mitigated, develop and implement a plan to promote the tire-aging test protocol to reduce the risk.
- Develop a consensus document with input from the automotive industry, the tire industry, and safety advocacy groups that addresses tire aging and service life and that also includes best practices for those consumers whose tires are most at risk of experiencing an aging-related failure.
- Develop, in consultation with automotive and tire industry representatives, a tire safety action plan to reduce or mitigate tire-related crashes by promoting technological innovation and adapting regulations as necessary.
The NTSB also made recommendations to AAA, the Rubber Manufacturers Association and tire manufacturers.
The wildly divergent picture of tire-related crash deaths sketched by TSI and NHTSA is more than a methodology dispute. Data is the basis for NHTSA rulemaking, enforcement and safety priorities. In fact, the agency used its interpretation of the total number and trend-line of tire-related crash fatalities to drop a rulemaking on a tire-aging test:
At this time, the agency does not believe it is necessary for motor vehicle safety to add a tire aging requirement to its light vehicle tire standard due to the following reasons: First, FMVSS No.139 has contributed to an increased robustness of oven-aged light vehicle tires. Our research has shown that oven-aged FMVSS No. 139-compliant tires are more resistant to degradation than oven-aged pre-FMVSS No. 139 tires. Second, light vehicle tires are performing better on the road as reflected in our most recent crash data.
NHTSA bills itself as data-driven, and longtime observers like to cite the agency’s no-data-no-problem approach to avoiding auto and traffic safety problems that it doesn’t consider under its purview, or might require solutions that will be challenge the industry status quo. In fact, the Tire Industry Association, which represents tire dealers, have complained bitterly about NHTSA’s efforts to quantify tire-related deaths at all. In an April 2014 editorial in Tire Review about a consumer education infographic entitled “In the Garage,” the trade publication staff argued that there was no information about the causes of those tire failures – specifically that they were not attributed to underinflation.
The TIA provided NHTSA with the following feedback: “First of all, TIA is unaware of any data that quantifies what led to the tire failures in the first place. It is one thing to say that “400 people die every year as a result of tire failure due to improper inflation” and something completely different to just say any number of people die as the result of tire failures. The message as it stands tells consumers that tires are dangerous products because they kill hundreds of people each year. The actual number is inconsequential because it does not tell the whole story unless it is tied directly to the lack of maintenance. Given its location and size, it appears to be the most important message of the piece and potentially causes more problems than it solves.”
The editorial went on to grouse: “Nothing has changed since September of last year because lowering the number to 200 doesn’t make it any less misleading. Two hundred people die every year in tire-related crashes as a result of what? Is this a collective number of deaths where tires were determined to be factors in fatal accidents?”
TSI believes that those are valid questions, with answers that could lead to more effective safety policies. But to get there, let’s start by counting all of the tire-related crash deaths.
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