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Tire manufacturers, safety group sue over tire pressure system

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Tire manufacturers and a government watchdog group on Monday asked a federal appeals court to invalidate a new rule on tire pressure monitoring systems, saying the regulation gives motorists a false sense of safety.

The rule was issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in April to require automakers to install tire pressure monitoring systems by the 2008 model year. Nearly 20 percent of vehicles already have the technology.

To comply, automakers would likely attach tiny sensors to each wheel that would 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.

The regulation, which has its roots in the Firestone tire recall of 2000, should be overturned because it fails to live up to the spirit of reforms implemented to prevent vehicle rollovers, the group said.

The plaintiffs include watchdog group Public Citizen, the Tire Industry Association and four tire companies _ The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., Pirelli Tire LLC, and Bridgestone/Firestone North American Tire LLC.

Joan Claybrook, the president of Public Citizen and a former NHTSA administrator, said Congress ordered the agency to write a rule that would improve highway safety by helping ensure that motorists are alerted to dangerously underinflated tires. ``This rule falls far short,'' she said.

The group said the rule doesn't require the systems to operate with replacement tires, and the systems would only kick in when a motorist had been driving between 30 and 60 mph continuously for 20 minutes. That would make it difficult for someone driving in a city or under other stop-and-go situations to know if a tire had low pressure.

``With this rule, motorists may mistakenly feel safe and not believe they need to check their tires,'' Goodyear said in a statement.

Rae Tyson, a NHTSA spokesman, said the agency had not seen the lawsuit and declined to comment.

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

Under the rule, all new four-wheel vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less would be required to be equipped with the systems. The regulation would affect passenger cars, sport utility vehicles, pickup trucks and minivans.

Congress sought the warning devices in The Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation Act. It followed concerns over SUV rollovers after more than 10 million Firestone tires were recalled beginning in August 2000.

NHTSA originally issued a tire pressure monitoring rule in December 2001, but Public Citizen and consumer groups sued to overturn the regulation. NHTSA's rule was tossed out in August 2003, leading to the new regulatory process.
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