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Agency Missed Early Tire Warnings Correction In some Sept 12 editions a headline in the Business section misstated how the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration handled some complaints about Firestone tires The headline should have said as it did in other editions that the agency missed the complaints By Cindy Skrzycki Washington Post Staff Writer Tuesday September 12 2000 Page E01 On Nov 30 1998 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration received a letter from a Ford Explorer owner who said his Firestone tire tread peeled off like an orange Imagine my shock when the mechanics looked at my tire and told me I was lucky to be alive the letter said adding that the mechanics told him that Firestone tires on Explorers are known to lose tread and contribute to or cause Ford Explorers to flip This was among as many as 26 consumer complaints about Firestone tires filed since the early 1990s that NHTSA overlooked in January when reviewing whether to open an investigation into reports of Firestone tire problems NHTSA had missed the consumer complaints because of the way its database is organized They werent filed under Firestone as tire problems they were filed under Ford as vehicle problems NHTSA the federal agency responsible for tracking information about potential auto safety defects did open an investigation into Firestone tires May 2--after news reports of tire failures that resulted in fatal accidents And NHTSA spokesman Rae Tyson said yesterday that the additional complaints would not have prompted the agency to move any sooner In the past the agency has opened investigations with far fewer complaints It looked into problems with Michelin tires in 1994 based on five complaints The overlooked complaints--detailing incidents of tire blowouts tread separations and other accidents involving Firestone tires mounted on Ford vehicles--illustrate how difficult it has been for federal investigators to piece together a clear picture of what went wrong with the
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