Non-Existent Technology May Become Law

NASHVILLE – By 2003, trucks and trailers may be equipped with a new piece of technology - tire pressure warning systems designed to warn truck drivers of “significantly” under-inflated tires. The only catch is no one knows how they will work – or how much you’ll have to pay for them. And fleets will have to pay, because the federal government may make tire pressure warning systems standard features

NASHVILLE – By 2003, trucks and trailers may be equipped with a new piece of technology - tire pressure warning systems designed to warn truck drivers of “significantly” under-inflated tires. The only catch is no one knows how they will work – or how much you’ll have to pay for them.

And fleets will have to pay, because the federal government may make tire pressure warning systems standard features on commercial trucks, said Guy Walenga, engineering manager for Bridgestone/Firestone Tires Sales, speaking at the annual Technology and Maintenance Council (TMC) meeting.

The legislation mandating tire pressure warning systems for commercial vehicles is the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability, and Documentation Act (TREAD), passed last November by Congress in the wake of the Firestone tire recall that affected Ford Explorers. Only a small piece of that Act affects the trucking industry, but it is a potential whopper.

Section 13 requires trailers and medium- and heavy-duty commercial trucks to have a system installed that warns drivers of significant low tire pressure. The National Highway Transportation & Safety Administration (NHTSA) is required under the Act to have a final rule in effect two years after it begins the rulemaking process.

Since Congress wanted the rulemaking process to start this year, with a June or July target date, Walenga said truckers may be required to have the technology functioning and it in place by 2003, even though it doesn’t exist today.

Part of the problem is that the Act does not define what significant under-inflation means, nor what a warning system should look like, he said. Will it use gauges, lights or buzzers to warn drivers? How will the trailer’s warning system be connected to the tractor? Hard-wired through the seven-pin connector? Or by signals beamed from radio frequency tags on the tires? And will such technology be cost effective?

Walenga did say that the trucking industry has an unusual ally in this, NHTSA itself. He said the agency does not want to do this overnight and would like more time to look for cost-effective options.

Walenga added that the concept of a tire pressure warning system has been around for a while and has a lot of support in the trucking industry – just not for having it adopted in such a rapid manner.

Larry Strawhorn, vp of engineering for the American Trucking Assn., added that he doesn’t expect the rulemaking will be accomplished so fast. “The starting gun has been fired in this, but we are a long, long way from the checkered flag,” he said.

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