This week's congressional hearings on the Firestone-Ford tire controversy should have the needed effect. Companies that make cars and tires should do a better job of early identifying possible safety problems, and the federal regulators responsible for road safety should set updated standards for tires and be vigilant in enforcing them.
The information that has come out so far points to overcaution and misplaced attempts to head off bad publicity by both the automaker and the tiremaker. By the mid-1990s, problems with certain Firestone tires used on light trucks and SUVs were coming to light. Reports were coming in from overseas - Saudi Arabia and Venezuela - of significant numbers of tire failures.
Internal memos indicate the companies debated how to deal with these problems. When Ford finally initiated a tire replacement program for its Saudi customers - a move not favored by Firestone - that action was not reported to the US Transportation Department.
It should have been. And Firestone's records indicate it knew of mounting problems with its tires on US highways long before its August recall was announced.
Consumers expect a higher regard for their safety than these laggard corporate moves appear to show. They also expect, as investigations continue, clear answers. Why did certain Firestone tires fail and what's been done to correct that? Is Ford's SUV design also an issue?
These questions point to the need for updated federal standards for tire safety. The current ones date back to the late '60s. The design and technology of tires and cars have changed a good deal since then.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society