A research firm that has studied tire failures on Ford Motor Co. sport utility vehicles is suing the nation’s transportation agency for access to roadway death and injury data.
Quality Control Systems Corp. said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration wrongfully withheld records on deaths and injuries from incidents involving tires on Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer SUVs.
The company wants access to Ford’s early warning system data, which the government has withheld from the public, to learn more about potential tire-related deaths and injuries. Required early warning system reports cite potential problem areas to provide the government timely evidence of possible hazards in specific types of vehicles.
“If it’s possible to help consumers figure out how to lower their risk, who doesn’t think that’s a good idea?” said R.A. Whitfield, the research firm’s director.
NHTSA spokesman Rae Tyson would not comment.
QCS Corp. said its review of the government’s public fatality database found nearly 400 deaths in tire-related incidents involving Explorer, Mountaineer and Mazda Navajo SUVs from July 1994 and mid-January. Recent news reports indicated another two dozen deaths, Whitfield said.
NHTSA has noted that the fatality database does not list what specifically caused a crash.
QCS and some consumer groups have requested early warning system data submitted by automakers, which was part of legislation passed by Congress following a massive recall of Firestone tires in 2000. The measure required automakers and other manufacturers to provide data on deaths, injuries, consumer complaints, property damage and warranty claims.
Consumer groups such as Public Citizen and the Rubber Manufacturers Association, a tire industry trade group, have sued over possible release of the data. NHTSA has declined to allow access to the information amid the pending litigation.
Last year, NHTSA reissued a proposal to keep confidential some vehicle safety data involving information on vehicles involved in deaths and injuries, consumer complaints and warranty claims.
NHTSA has said releasing the information would cause competitive harm for companies and hurt the government’s ability to obtain information in the future. The proposal, issued in October, has not yet been fully implemented.
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