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System to Recall Defective Tires 'Completely Broken,' Says Official

Federal accident investigators say few motorists know if they're driving on tires that were recalled for safety reasons.
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The federal recall system that is supposed to keep potentially dangerous car tires off the road is “completely broken,” federal officials said Tuesday.

At a meeting in Washington, accident investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board said that while each year tire problems cause 33,000 accidents and kill 500-plus motorists, only one in five defective tires is being taken out of service via recalls. More than half of recalled tires remain in use, investigators found.

“Based on the work we did, that system is not working,“ said Dr. Rob Molloy, acting director of the NTSB’s Office of Highway Safety. “It is completely broken.”

The problem, according to an NTSB report, is that tire manufacturers can’t reach tire owners to warn them. Independent tire dealers aren’t required to register the tires they sell with manufacturers, and so most don’t. Though 3.2 million tires were recalled between 2009 and 2013, most of the drivers using them were unaware of the recalls.

NTSB experts told the board that even mechanics have no way of knowing when tires have been recalled.

“Why can’t a service tech tell me if my tires are recalled,” NTSB Vice Chairman T. Bella Dinh-Zarr asked.

“The main reason for that,” answered investigator Robert Squire, “is there’s no easy way to do it.”

Sean Kane, the founder of Safety Research and Strategies, a firm that monitors potential hazards in consumer projects, said drivers would be surprised to learn that there’s no government or industry database to notify owners or mechanics about recalled tires.

Said Kane, “I think it's shocking to consumers to know that when they go into a shop to have their tires inspected, that no one can tell them whether they've got a recalled tire on their car in 2015."

At Tuesday’s meeting, investigators gave examples of fatal accidents linked to defective tires, including a multi-passenger van that crashed in Lake City, Florida in 2014. The driver thought he had an issue with a tire, but since the defect was internal couldn’t find the problem and kept driving. The tire failed and the van flipped over. Two passengers were killed eight were injured.

The tire had been recalled more than a year earlier because of an internal defect, but hadn’t been registered with the tiremaker.

In 2014, Joan Morro was killed and her husband injured after a recalled tire on a pickup truck blew and forced their Dodge Durango off the road on Interstate 95 in South Carolina. Their son Frank alleges in a civil suit that the accident was caused by a tire on the truck that had been recalled by Michelin.

“My father was fractured from head to toe,” said Frank Morro. “He had multiple brain bleeds, skull fractures and a left orbit fracture.”

The panel of NTSB investigators unanimously recommended that Congress require tire registration, and also recommended that drivers register their tires with the manufacturers.

Registering tires requires sending your name, address and tire identification number with the company that made it. The number is on the tire sidewall and starts with the letters DOT.