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It is somewhat metaphorical that the industry that promotes rubber tried to screw the American consumer by keeping essential safety information from becoming public knowledge. But thanks to a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, the law is very clear; defective automobile tire data must be made public.The Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation (TREAD) Act requires all manufacturers to submit “early warning data” to the Department of Transportation. The reason for this act was a direct result of the tire failures by Firestone and Ford that caused needless injuries and death.

“The TREAD Act was intended to prevent needless deaths and injuries, like those in the Ford/Firestone tire tragedy, by giving regulators and the public quick access to information manufacturers have about crashes involving their products,” said Joan Claybrook, President of Public Citizen.

Public Citizen was the lead consumer advocacy group in opposing the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) contention that the information obtained by the TREAD act was not subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The RMA had, incredulously, sought to keep the information private and preventing consumers from making the right decisions that woujld prevent personal injuries and wrongful deaths. Their argument was dismissed by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Public Citizen v. Peters. The court held that the “plain language of the statute. . .means what it says.”

The RMA argued that the release of the early warning information “lead to the release of inaccurate, unsubstantiated information about tires and automotive equipment.” But the Court rejected that argument out of hand. The entire reason for the TREAD Act was to give consumers needed information about the products they were using and their potential catastrophic consequences.

The RMA also argued that the information provided did not allow them to “correct” the data that was submitted. In other words, the industry would not be able to “spin” the public on how their products were safe. The Court easily saw through this specious argument and upheld the intent of the TREAD Act.

This Appellate Court decision paves the way for the U.S. Department of Transportation to begin releasing this critical information that may have been able to prevent needless injury and death for many victims.

In fact, the entire goal of the TREAD Act is to provide consumers early information to prevent needless injuries and deaths caused by faulty products. Had this information been available regarding Firestone tires, many lives could have been saved..

“The D.C. Circuit’s opinion eliminates any shred of legal support for the RMA‘s attempts to keep early warning data under wraps,” said Public Citizen Attorney Scott Nelson, who argued the case. “Now that the court has confirmed that the TREAD Act means what it says, it is time for the government to follow the law and comply with its obligations under FOIA.”

The importance of this ruling cannot be underestimated. Based on this lawsuit, the Department of Transportation had withheld the release of the data it has already collected from the TREAD Act. How many injuries and deaths could have prevented had the information been made public earlier is unknown. But it is clear from the actions of the RMA that much of the information will show a callous disregard for human life on the part of the manufacturers.

If it did not, the release of the information would never have been an issue.

It is always ironic when the industry that causes the harm wants to protect the public from the information it needs to make an informed decision. This reasoning is often the cause of major tragedies that should have been avoided.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the Rubber Industry would use this prophylactic approach in trying to prevent consumers from gaining this important knowledge.

It’s comforting to know that the U.S. Court of Appeals is having none of it.

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Richard Alexander