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Goodyear Tire Defect and Coverup Demonstrate Need for Criminal Penalties in Auto Safety Law

Nov. 21, 2000

Goodyear Tire Defect and Coverup Demonstrate Need for Criminal Penalties in Auto Safety Law

Statement of Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook

We should not be surprised that Goodyear chose to cover up a defect in its Load Range E tires rather than inform auto safety regulators about the problems the company knew about even before it added a layer of nylon to the tires in 1996. Goodyear executives knew they wouldn t be seriously punished for their decision, because the law does not provide for criminal penalties for knowingly concealing such critical data from regulators. And the maximum civil penalty, until the new law was passed last month, was a mere $925,000. It is now a maximum of $15 million.

This new revelation about Goodyear, coming on the heels of the Firestone/Ford tire debacle, only reinforces the dire need for strong criminal penalties for executives who knowingly cover up safety defects that result in death and injury. At least 15 people have been killed and 129 injured in crashes linked to these Goodyear tires. It is inexcusable that the company failed to warn consumers about the dangers of the 21 million tires, manufactured from 1991 to 1999, that auto safety regulators will investigate. The company is now blaming consumers, attributing these catastrophic crashes to “overloading” and “underinflation.” The company also says the failure rate is low. We ve heard these excuses before.

Congress had the opportunity to give federal safety regulators the option of applying criminal sanctions when it passed the TREAD act only a few weeks ago. But because of fierce lobbying from the automakers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, reinforced by millions of dollars in campaign cash, Congress failed to do the right thing for the safety of the public. This won t be the last time we hear about such coverups. They will continue as long as executives know they won t be putting themselves at risk of criminal sanctions for decisions that result in lost lives and immeasurable human suffering.