Federal safety officials today are expected to announce the results of an unprecedented, year-long investigation into how recalled and potentially dangerous tires often remain on the road, unbeknownst to American drivers.
The investigation was launched by the National Transportation Safety Board last May in the wake of a deadly traffic accident involving a tire that had been recalled.
An ABC News investigation at the time found the government’s recall system woefully inadequate, leaving millions of tires in use, on store shelves or simply unaccounted for.
Undercover reporters from ABC stations in Atlanta and San Francisco found recalled tires still for sale at some retail outlets.
Last year the NTSB estimated there are “400 to 500 deaths a year, at least, from crashes involving tire-initiated events,” including tires that could have been underinflated, punctured or suffered from other pre-existing problems. The Rubber Manufacturers Association disputed that number, putting the estimate at approximately 200 fatalities per year, citing other NTSB figures.
The year-long NTSB investigation was triggered, in part, by a fatal accident in Florida involving a church van with a defective tire that apparently neither mechanics nor church officials were aware had been recalled a year earlier.
Two adult church leaders were killed and eight others were injured, most of them teenagers.
“When you see 33,000 accidents a year, in relation to defect tires, we know we have a serious tire problem and a good piece of that relates to recalls,” NTSB Chairman Chris Hart told ABC News.
In addition to recalls, safety advocates told ABC News last year that there is also a danger when it comes to tires that are simply old.
Safety engineers say that depending on how they’re maintained and used, they can begin to lose their the tread and separate after as little as six years. But no current law, or industry standard, prevents the sale of aged tires and customers will only k now the age of their tires if they know how to read a small code imprinted on the tire itself.
Ford, GM and Chrysler all recommend that tires more than six years old be replaced, regardless of how much they have been used.
But the tire industry says there’s no evidence to support a strict tire age standard of any kind.