WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Tire manufacturers pressed the government on Wednesday to tighten proposals for measuring tire pressure, saying technology under consideration would not adequately warn drivers about underinflated tires.
The Rubber Manufacturers Association, which represents U.S. and overseas tire makers, petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to boost the minimum point at which a monitoring system would tell drivers to adjust their air pressure.
"We just want people to be warned in time," said Dan Zielinski, an industry spokesman.
A recent federal appeals court decision struck down a proposal by the Bush administration to give automakers a choice between two systems. One would simultaneously measure pressure on all four tires directly, while the second and less costly option would work with a vehicle's antilock brakes.
Safety experts that include NHTSA engineers concluded the direct system would be more effective but were forced by the White House to give the industry the less expensive choice.
Industry sources said an appeal of the court ruling was unlikely, but regulators have not said which option they would pursue.
Zielinski said the tire industry has no preference. But no matter which technology is chosen, the industry wants it set at more sensitive levels than currently proposed.
"The monitoring system is a backup tool, meant to be an indicator of when something is wrong and needs near immediate attention," Zielinski said.
Tire makers, stung by serious safety and legal challenges resulting from the Firestone tire debacle in 2000 and 2001, are uniquely sensitive to measuring underinflation. They point out that U.S. motorists do a poor job of checking their tires and properly inflating them.
Overinflated tires can lead to a rougher ride and premature wear on the center of a tire. Underinflation can expose rubber and other materials to more heat -- especially during hot weather -- and create dangerous wear at the edges and sides of a tire. This condition was a problem with some of the tires that failed in the Firestone case.
The tire pressure monitoring system was required by Congress as part of sweeping auto safety reforms passed in the aftermath of the Firestone saga.