On top of the tyre safety enquiry, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is now probing two door versions of Ford's Explorer sport-utility vehicle to see whether a third rear seat safety belt is needed following reports of 10 deaths, Bloomberg News reported.

Citing agency spokesman Rae Tyson, Bloomberg said that the NHTSA is investigating a "compliance issue" on the two-door Explorer Sport and Mercury Mountaineer sport-utilities. Although Ford says the rear seat has two belts because it's designed for only two people, a third person sometimes sits in the rear seat and the agency has reports of 11 crashes involving 10 deaths and 20 injuries.

Citing Ford spokeswoman Sara Tatchio, Bloomberg News said that Ford tells customers that the two-door model is intended to seat a total of four people. "There's a seat belt for every seating position," Tatchio told the news agency, adding that Ford provided information sought by NHTSA in mid-July.

Some reports yesterday said there was consumer confusion over how many people the rear seat should accommodate. Despite the provision of only two belts, the seat is wide enough for three people and is not shaped to discourage a third person from using it.

Tyson told Bloomberg that the NHTSA is looking at 1991 to 2001 models as well as the redesigned 2002 Explorer.

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