In Car Accidents, Tire Cases

The Hidden Risks of Tire Defects

Typically, roadway hazards attract the eyes of attentive motorists and provide at least some opportunity to avoid a collision. Some hazards, though, strike without any notice or observable warning, and defective tires are one of these hazards. 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 86 percent of U.S. workers commuted by automobile in 2013. With ever-expanding urban sprawls throughout the United States, drivers can hardly avoid public roads altogether. Driving a vehicle affected by tire failure — or even driving near one — will immediately put you in danger. Not only will a tire failure compromise your vehicle’s safety, but it can also spin a vehicle or throw tire tread and other debris at adjacent motorists.

Every year, more than 500 people die and approximately 19,000 suffer injuries due to tire failure-related crashes. In 2015, for example, 634 fatal tire-related crashes were recorded in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), and over 15% of them occurred in Texas. Because the U.S. Census Bureau indicates that Texas accounts for 8.6% of the total U.S. population, crashes caused by tire failure occur at nearly double the incidence rate expected in our state.

Defining the Problem of Tire Defects and Car Crashes

For public officials and safety experts who wish to protect motorists from the hazards of tire failure, the accuracy and availability of relevant data — especially relating to manufacturer defects — present major obstacles. FARS, a crash statistics databank, is the primary source of tracking trends for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which is a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation. As reported by the U.S. Department of Transportation, “in the FARS system, tire problems are noted after the crash, if they are noted at all, and are only considered as far as the existence of a condition.”

Given the lack of clear data and communication, the NHTSA often can’t tell “whether the tire problem caused the crash, influenced the severity of the crash, or just occurred during the crash.” Because of these unclear data patterns, it’s difficult to hold tire manufactures accountable when they fail to detect defects and initiate prompt recalls. And without a standardized reporting system, it’s hard to measure the true impact of tire-related crashes.

A Look at Noteworthy Defective Tire Recalls

How do defective tires end up on cars in the first place? To answer that question, consider a notable tire-defect saga that many people still remember: the infamous Firestone tire scandal.

The Wall Street Journal reported that in 1998, Attorney Jay Halpern received a case involving the failure of a Firestone tire on a Ford Explorer. It wasn’t until two years later that Bridgestone Corp. finally recalled 6.5 million Firestone tires, which made it the second largest tire recall in U.S. history. CNN reported that the move to recall their tires resulted from intense pressure from major tire retailers, safety advocates, and government regulators after reports surfaced that the tires may have been linked to as many as 46 deaths and hundreds of accidents.

However, manufacturers often fight to protect their profits and deflect blame, even in the face of compelling data. Garry Crigger, the company’s executive vice president at the time, was quoted as saying, “The vast majority of incidents are in the southern states of Arizona, California, Florida, and Texas, which suggests there may be a direct correlation between heat and tire performance … Most of the incidents we have reviewed indicate improper maintenance or damage to the tires, which is often caused by under-inflation of tires. Under-inflated operation of any tire generates excessive heat, which can lead to tire failure.”

The reason manufacturers work so hard to avoid recalls is because costs to companies like Bridgestone continue to rise long after the company handles recall costs and associated litigation expenses. In particular, profitability continues to suffer because consumers lose faith in the brand. As far as tire companies are concerned, accepting such financial losses requires a certain level of evidence in support of a recall; unfortunately, the gathering of that evidence involves motorists suffering injuries or even losing their lives. It also creates a heavy burden for individual victims of tire defects to mount a case against a tire manufacturer that has substantial financial resources at its disposal.

Defects in design and manufacturing are not the only problem consumers face, however. Recently, on February 20, 2017, Cooper Tire & Rubber recalled 7,067 Discoverer M+S Sport tires. According to Consumer Affairs, the tires may be marked with the Alpine Symbol, but they do not meet the traction requirements for snow tires. This means the tires may not provide the expected traction or performance in snowy conditions, increasing the risk of a crash. Recalls like this one constitute a dangerous disconnect between a manufacturer’s claims and a consumer’s expectations; in the world of product defect law, experts call this a marketing defect.

In addition to defects, a 2015 report from the NTSB noted that the ineffectiveness of tire recalls also puts undue risk on consumers. One 2014 accident examined by researchers involved a 15-passenger van that lost control and crashed after the tread separated from the left rear tire. Two adults were ejected in the ensuing rollover and died.

Sadly, this tragedy could have likely been prevented because the Michelin tires on the van had voluntarily been recalled by the manufacturer 19 months prior to the crash; the recall cited tread and belt endurance issues as the cause. The NTSB report indicated that, in many cases, manufacturers recall only 20 percent of defective tires, and investigators also concluded that the success of a tire recall relies heavily on the effectiveness of the tire registration process, which has not become adequately standardized across the industry.

How to Protect Yourself and Your Loved Ones from Defective Tires

Taking steps to protect yourself and your loved ones from the dangers of tire defects can be surprisingly simple. Below are three important steps you can take:

1. Research

Research consumer reports before every tire purchase and check the manufacturer’s historical reliability. This will vastly reduce your risk of unwittingly purchasing tires that have a known risk.

2. Register Your Tires

As soon as possible, register newly-purchased tires with the manufacturer and provide accurate contact information to ensure they can successfully reach you in the event of a recall. Ask if this can be done for you or expedited at the point of sale whenever you purchase tires.

3. Inspect Your Tires Often

Check your tires before you travel, especially during hotter summer months and before extended highway travel, both of which create an elevated level of tire-failure risk. Hot weather causes the air in tires to expand, which in turn can cause an already-failing tire to “blow out,” (a term which refers to a rupture during travel).

Things to look for when checking your tires include:

  • Chunks of missing rubber from the body of the tire.
  • Cracks that run along the sidewall that can indicate dry rotting or tread separation.
  • Rust or cracks around lugs that could indicate metal fatigue. Faulty lugs can cause the tire to wobble and wear unevenly, which can ultimately lead to a tire failure.
  • Bubbles or protrusions that bulge out from the sidewall or the tread.
  • Uneven wear spots where the tread has become bald or spots where parts of the woven steel belt have become visible. Uneven wear or bulges in your tire will often cause your vehicle to vibrate at high speeds and can eventually result in a blowout.

Many tire sellers will inspect your tires free of charge, inflate them to the appropriate level, and provide you with an estimate of how long your existing tires can safely last. Some will even rotate your tires and provide other routine tire maintenance services free of charge if you purchase tires from them.

Regardless of where you get your tires, make a habit of regularly getting your tires checked, and don’t delay if a pressure sensor goes off and your car displays a warning light of any kind. Being proactive about tire maintenance and becoming informed will help reduce your risk for tire failure.

Crosley Law Firm Represents Victims of Tire Defects 

While we can all take steps to prevent a tire defect from endangering ourselves and our families, we can’t eliminate our risk for a tire failure-related crash — especially when someone else’s carelessness causes a wreck. Whether you have been injured or lost a loved one due to another driver’s negligence or because a corporation has put their profits over the safety of consumers, Crosley Law Firm strives to level the playing field and protect your rights.

We handle all personal injury cases on a contingent-fee basis, so you won’t pay attorney’s fees unless we make a financial recovery on your behalf, and we also offer free initial consultations. Please contact Crosley Law Firm at (877) 535-4529 or fill out our online contact form to schedule a no-risk meeting with us today.

References

Coyle, C. (2015, October 27). NTSB releases numbers about deadly tire-related accidents. Fox 8. Retrieved from http://myfox8.com/2015/10/27/ntsb-releases-numbers-about-deadly-tire-related-accidents/

Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) Encyclopedia. (n.d.). National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Retrieved from https://www-fars.nhtsa.dot.gov/Main/index.aspx

Firestone tires recalled. (2000, August 9). CNN Money. Retrieved from http://money.cnn.com/2000/08/09/news/firestone_recall/

Limbach, J. (2017, February 27). Cooper recalls Discoverer M+S Sport tires. Consumer Affairs. Retrieved from https://www.consumeraffairs.com/news/cooper-recalls-discoverer-ms-sport-tires-022717.html

McKenzie, B. (2015, August). Who drives to work? Commuting by automobile in the United States: 2013. U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/hhes/commuting/files/2014/acs-32.pdf

Notice of proposed rulemaking: Docket no. NHTSA-00-8011, RIN 2127-AI54. (n.d.), U.S. Department of Transportation: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Retrieved from https://one.nhtsa.gov/cars/rules/rulings/UpgradeTire/#TireI

Selected issues in passenger vehicle tire safety. (2015, October 27). National Transportation Safety Board. Retrieved from https://www.ntsb.gov/safety/safety-studies/Documents/SIR1502.pdf

Simison, R., Lundegaard, K., Shirouzu, N., & Heller, J. (2000, August 10). How a tire problem became a crisis for Firestone, Ford. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB965870212891028108

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