WASHINGTON - Requiring a low-tire-pressure warning system would cost automakers $66 per vehicle under one likely scenario, federal safety officials have estimated.
But the benefits would be great, they said.
Besides preventing deaths and injuries, the systems would help drivers save fuel and get more miles from tires, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said.
NHTSA outlined the expected costs and benefits last week in rules proposed to implement the law that requires the low-tire-pressure warning systems, beginning in November 2003. Congress and President Clinton enacted it last year in the wake of intense media coverage of tires that lost treads and vehicles that flipped over.
The agency noted that few people check tire pressure regularly and that underinflated tires create a variety of safety hazards.
NHTSA previously considered requiring tire pressure sensors in 1970 and again in 1981 but dropped the idea because of concerns about reliability and cost.
While technology has improved and costs have come down, NHTSA acknowledged that there are many unanswered questions. It is asking for comments from interested parties by Sept. 6 so it can try to answer those questions in the final rules.
Automakers and tire manufacturers differ on some issues, such as what level of inflation should trigger a warning. Gloria Bergquist, vice president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said motorists would learn to ignore alarms if they go off repeatedly from normal fluctuations in tire pressure.
And she said, 'The rules should not be a crutch for poorly designed tires.'
The $66 system envisioned by NHTSA would include a sensor in each wheel that would transmit signals to a display. It would glow yellow when one or more tires were at least 20 percent underinflated.
The agency said other systems incorporated into vehicle antilock brake components would be less costly but probably also less accurate.