May 22, 2001
Ford Replacement Good Move But Overdue; More Hearings Needed
Statement of Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook
At last, Ford — but not Firestone, as it should — is taking much-needed steps to replace as many as 13 million dangerous tires on the roads today. That’s a lot of tires and a lot of people who are driving on tires that even Ford now admits fail at a higher rate than average. Public Citizen and Safetyforum.com released data in January and April documenting that the non-recalled Wilderness AT tires were just as hazardous as the recalled tires. It’s inconceivable that neither Ford nor Firestone was able to reach this conclusion before us. For those who have been killed or injured as Ford and Firestone pondered the matter, a tire replacement now is of little consolation. So far, 184 people have been killed and more than 700 injured.
Still, we are pleased that Ford is taking the initiative to address the problem, as Firestone has refused to do. We urge Ford to be diligent in its tire replacement campaign and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to exercise close oversight to ensure no more people lose their lives needlessly.
We also are pleased that the Congress plans to hold follow-up hearings. Congress needs to evaluate NHTSA’s ability to prevent these tragedies from happening in the future. (The agency is charged with issuing a new tire safety standard by next June.) NHTSA should quickly issue a strong information-gathering requirement as mandated under the TREAD Act, to provide early warning of potentially dangerous defects. The agency also should issue upgraded roof crush and rollover prevention standards, and should have the power to impose criminal penalties on companies that refuse to recall defective products. Additionally, the agency’s budget needs to be significantly increased. Today, it is 30 percent below, in real dollars, what it was in 1980.