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Government to require vehicles to have tire pressure monitoring systems

WASHINGTON (AP) _ New passenger cars must have tire pressure monitoring systems in place by the 2008 model year, the government announced Thursday.

The regulation, which has its roots in the Firestone tire recall of 2000, will require automakers to attach tiny sensors to each wheel that will signal if a tire falls 25 percent below the recommended inflation pressure. If any one of the four tires is underinflated, the sensors set off a dashboard warning light.

Automakers will begin implementing the technology in September. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates the upgrade will cost manufacturers between $48.44 and $69.89 per vehicle.

The government said underinflated tires hurt a vehicle's fuel economy and can increase stopping distances, increase likelihood of tire failure and lead to skidding on wet surfaces.

All new four-wheel vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less will be required to be equipped with the systems by the 2008 model year. The regulation affects passenger cars, sport utility vehicles, pickup trucks and minivans.

NHTSA estimates that 120 lives a year will be saved when all new vehicles are equipped with the systems.

The regulation was proposed last September. Tire manufacturers have questioned whether the warning system would signal low pressure early enough. Automakers have raised concerns that motorists may ignore the lights if they appear too frequently.

Congress, seeking ways to prevent SUV rollovers after more than 10 million Firestone tires were recalled beginning in August 2000, sought the warning devices in The Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation Act.

NHTSA originally issued a rule in December 2001 that would have required vehicles made after November 2003 to have dashboard lights warning drivers if their tire pressure was low.

But Public Citizen and other consumer groups sued the government agency, arguing the rule weakly allowed automakers to choose between cheaper ``indirect'' monitors, which operate off the antilock braking system, or ``direct'' systems, which have monitors attached to each wheel.

A federal appeals court in New York agreed with the consumer groups and tossed out NHTSA's rule in August 2003, leading to the new process of issuing the regulation.
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