The New York Times article "SUV Tyre Defects were Known in ’96 but Not Reported"
inaccurately describes Strategic Safety’s work related to the Ford-Firestone tyre
matter, the traffic safety consulting firm said in a statement.
Strategic Safety says the article is based on an incorrect premise – the
NYT claimed that federal regulators and Ford were hampered in their efforts
to identify Firestone tyre problems in the U.S. because lawsuits were not reported
to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The Times states, "Ford engineers were falsely reassured in 1999 when
they checked the federal complaint database and found it virtually empty-because
lawyers had not filed complaints."
This statement contradicts the facts, Strategic Safety retorted.
"The database was not virtually empty as the Times claimed," the
"A review of complaints publicly available from NHTSA on June 24, 1999,
revealed 36 complaints of tyre failures on Ford Explorers and Rangers –
nearly all of the incidents we were aware of (certainly more than the two that
Ford claims were available).
"Neither Ford nor anyone else would have been hampered by the lack of
lawsuit complaints filed with the agency as Ford was a defendant in most of
these publicly filed claims."
The organisation added that, additionally, by 1999 Ford had already recalled
vehicles overseas to replace the defective tyres.
Strategic Safety began investigating the issue in 1996, the statement said.
It was not until 1998 that approximately 30 cases had been identified. These
cases consisted of lawsuits and complaints filed with NHTSA – all of which
were publicly accessible.
As soon as the problem began to emerge as a trend in 1998 the complaints were
brought to the attention of the national media.
The statement said that The Times also makes an unsupported claim that Strategic
Safety was attempting to "publicise the problem without drawing in government
investigators" – a difficult task considering reporters normally seek
NHTSA comment on such stories and frequently ask why the agency isn’t investigating.
"Publicising a safety-related matter is an important way to alert consumers
of NHTSA and its complaint hotline, which in turn provides the agency with the
information needed to initiate investigations," the firm’s statement
"The claim made by the Times that ‘regulators made little progress
in the Firestone investigation until last summer, when they enlisted another
safety consultant, Ralph Hoar, to persuade lawyers to share information about
tyre failures’ is at best uninformed.
"Not only was Strategic Safety regularly discussing its findings with
the agency months before its investigation was opened in May 2000, it was our
findings and public disclosure on July 31, 2001 of Ford’s Firestone tyre recall
in Venezuela that outraged the nation and pushed Ford and Firestone to initiate
a similar recall in the U.S. only a week later.
"The facts clearly show that Ford and Firestone were very aware of the
dangers of these tyre defects long before NHTSA, safety researchers, and the
American public," the Strategic Safety statement concluded.