New Rule Requiring Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems Is Inadequate, Should Be Overturned, Public Citizen and Tire Manufacturers Tell Court

New Systems Not Required to Work With Replacement Tires, Allow for Dangerous Levels of Underinflation, Groups Say

WASHINGTON, D.C.  A new rule requiring auto manufacturers to install tire pressure monitoring systems in new vehicles is flawed, does not meet the requirements set by Congress and would allow for motorists to ride on dangerously underinflated tires, according to a lawsuit filed today.

The suit was filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia by Public Citizen, the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, Bridgestone Firestone North American Tire, Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., Pirelli and the Tire Industry Association.

The rule, issued in April, doesn't require tire pressure monitoring systems to operate with replacement tires - a dangerous omission given that an estimated 61 percent of passenger and 54 percent of light truck mileage occurs on replacement tires. Under the rule, a malfunction light will come on to alert motorists that the system is not working with the tires. Not only would this undermine public confidence in the systems, but it would likely lead to consumers ignoring the warning light or having it disabled.

"Congress ordered the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to write a rule that would improve highway safety by helping ensure that motorists are alerted to dangerously underinflated tires," said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. “This rule falls far short."

Under the rule, systems need not measure tire pressure until a motorist has been driving between 30 and 60 miles per hour continuously for 20 minutes. This means that the system would be useless for someone who does a lot of city driving with attendant stops and starts; there are systems that would provide more accurate information to motorists faster.

The systems are to alert motorists if any tire falls 25 percent below the recommended inflation pressure. A key problem, though, is that under the rule, the baseline by which the 25 percent will be measured will be dictated by the recommended tire pressure set by automakers. Because this recommendation is usually a range, and because the rule allows for a fudge factor of 2 pounds per square inch in the systems, this could allow some tires to be on the road at 30 percent underinflation or more before an alert is provided.

With the passage of the TREAD Act in the fall of 2000, Congress required NHTSA to set guidelines for tire pressure monitoring systems within a year. The agency in the spring of 2002 issued a weak rule allowing for a system that wouldn't function when two tires on the same side of the vehicle were underinflated. The system had other weaknesses and would have been of little help to motorists.

Public Citizen, the New York Public Interest Research Group and the Center for Auto Safety sued in June 2002 to force the agency to revise the rule to ensure that motorists would be adequately alerted when their tire pressure dropped to dangerous levels. In 2003, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ordered the government to strengthen the rule to cover each tire on the vehicle.

Still, the agency dragged its feet for nearly a year, and the safety groups returned to the court in July 2004, asking it to order the recalcitrant agency to act. On April 7, NHTSA issued a rule requiring automakers to install systems in all new passenger cars and trucks by the 2008 model year, beginning a phase-in with 2006 model year vehicles.

Click here to view the lawsuit