62 Deaths Said Linked To Tires

Wednesday, August 16th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

DETROIT (AP) — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is now investigating 62 deaths and 100 injuries that could be linked to the Firestone tires now being recalled.

NHTSA spokeswoman Liz Neblett said Tuesday the agency has received more than 750 complaints about Firestone tires. Most were made after the recall was announced.

Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. announced a recall last week of all P235/75R15 size radial ATX and ATX II tires, and Wilderness AT tires of the same size made in Decatur, Ill. Most of the 6.5 million 15-inch tires in question were installed on Ford trucks, notably the Ford Explorer sport utility vehicle.

Most of the reports of tire failure have involved tread separating from the tire, sometimes at high speed, causing blowouts and rollovers. Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone have not offered a theory for the failures, but have said hot weather plays a role.

John Lampe, executive vice president of Bridgestone/Firestone, said he couldn't comment on the numbers until he received more information about their makeup. He did say he was not surprised that NHTSA had recorded a growing number of claims.

``Obviously as more media attention has been played on this more claims will become known,'' he said.

An Associated Press examination of data from 779 tire complaints used by the NHTSA to generate its findings — more than 750 of which involved Firestone tires — found that about 25 percent of the complaints involved crashes alleged to have been caused by tire failure.

In more than 60 percent of the complaints logged by the NHTSA, the tires were on an Explorer; the next most-reported vehicle was the Ford Ranger pickup, with only about 5 percent of the total. Tread separation was cited in at least 570 complaints, and blowouts were reported in about 220 complaints, though some drivers cited both.

Not all of the reports contained complete information, such as the type of the vehicle involved, and the government has not verified the complaints or issued its own analysis.

Safety advocates and attorneys on Monday urged Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. to broaden the tire recall, saying the same problems that have been reported with the 15-inch tires affect all versions of the three tire models.

Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone said their analysis of claims data showed the recall was sufficient. The NHTSA complaint data showed that the size involved in the recall — P235/75R15 — has the highest number of complaints.

Lampe said the company was still investigating the cause of the complaints. The company said the recall would aim at four states — Arizona, California, Texas and Florida — where Bridgestone/Firestone had received the most complaints.

The majority of the NHTSA complaints also have been received from residents of those four states. Florida residents had filed the most complaints, with 164, followed by California residents with 159 and Texas with 131. Arizona, with 30, was the next highest total.

Bridgestone/Firestone said Tuesday it would reimburse customers who had their tires replaced at Firestone dealers before the recall was announced, going back to Jan. 1.

The company also will reimburse customers up to $100 per tire for customers who had tires replaced at retailers other than Firestone dealers between Aug. 9 and Aug. 16.

``We believe this is a simple and fair way to make things right for our customers,'' John Lampe, Bridgestone/Firestone's executive vice president, said in a statement.

The company also is running ads Wednesday in more than 40 major newspapers nationwide.


On the Net:

Bridgestone/Firestone: http://www.bridgestone-firestone.com

Ford Motor Co.: http://www.ford.com

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: http://www.nhtsa.gov