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Special Event

House Committees Hold Hearing on Events Surrounding Firestone Tire Recall

Aired September 6, 2000 - 2:07 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: All right. And we're hearing now in the committee room from Thomas Sawyer, a Democrat from Ohio.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

REP. THOMAS SAWYER (D), OHIO: ... is extraordinary.

Those are expectations that we have, and in large part, unless they're abused or damaged, tires function in that way.

What is most troubling about the matter that brings us together today is that the extremely small failure rate in itself may have exacerbated the process of finding that there was a problem and trying to identify its source, and more importantly, as a number of members have mentioned, its cause.

I have a longer statement that I'm not going to go into right now. I hope to bring out some of the points in questions and answers.

But just let me add, in closing, that the tire industry has been working on updating tire safety regulations worldwide through a complex, multi-year process.

The current regulations that make up the federal motor vehicle safety standards, Section 109, were written in the mid-1960s when bias-belt tires still dominated the market. So it comes as no surprise to me today that we are likely to be talking about bringing tire regulation firmly into the 21st century.

I know that the industry and regulators have been working to develop a harmonized standard for tires based on the best global tire safety practices. In doing so, the industry has asked for thoughtful contributions of key public interest and consumer protection groups here in the U.S. and around the world. I hope that this work will continue and that we will set a standard for that here today with the new perspective that today's hearings brings.

Several questions have been raised that address this tire recall here today. I look forward to hearing from today's witnesses, and simply say, in conclusion, that in the course of the time in which we have worked to look into the root-cause analysis, I can tell you that there is no one working on this in my district, in Akron, Ohio, who's going to sleep well until the cause is found. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, I appreciate your flexibility.

REP. BILLY TAUZIN (R-LA), CHAIRMAN, TELECOMMUNICATIONS, TRADE AND CONSUMER PROTECTION SUBCOMMITTEE OF THE HOUSE COMMERCE COMMITTEE: I thank the gentleman.

The chair now recognizes the gentleman from California, Mr. Bilbray, for an opening statement.

REP. BRIAN BILBRAY (R), CALIFORNIA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

And Mr. Chairman, I'd like to thank the gentleman from Akron, Ohio, for his in-depth report on the status of where the rubber meets the road.

I would have to, sort of, agree with him that, I guess, we take so much for granted in the American social structure. The fact is, as my colleague next to me just pointed out, that you hardly know what a flat tire is now unless something hits your sidewall, with the introduction of steel-belted tires.

And I understand that there are members here who have community economic interests about this issue and the credibility. I mean, I think that the gentleman from Michigan can point out that the reliability we have in the automobile industry is one thing that I think that our grandfathers could only dream of and our grandmothers could only cringe at.

And I guess if my father was alive today, he would be attacking me at why my wife drove across country in a car without her husband with her. You know, you can't allow a woman to go drive all the way across the country because it wasn't safe and it wasn't -- it was terrible, and look at this, think of all the things that would have happened.

And I think it's just a testimony to the dependability of our transportation system in this country in a lot of ways. Granted, my wife got to see more of El Paso than she preferred to for a few days, but that's another story.

Mr. Chairman, I'd just like to speak from the San Diego point of view, seeing everybody's talking about their little hunk of this issue in their part of the world.

And as we talk about the industries, we talk about the auto industry, the tire industry, the people that build these cars and make these tires, I think we've got to remember, too, that this issue affects every one in the entire country. It is something that goes beyond the people who produce the products. It goes and ends up with those who receive the products, and pay good money for these products, and expect them to perform to a reasonable standard.

And I would have to tell you that I have a consumer who was a lady who drove this summer, as those of us in the West will do, thousands of miles on her vacation from San Diego, by the Mexican border, all the way up to northern Idaho with her family, with a fully loaded Explorer. Ended up getting back, even though it was during the heat of the summer, very hot summer this year, unloaded the car, unloaded the family, and the next trip just happened to be off to the office, and the tire became unlaminated and fell apart. And her comment was, "Thank God, this didn't happen at 70 miles an hour, full of -- with a full loaded car; it just happened at a certain time, it was the safest time to happen."

I only want to say that because I think that we always talk about the deaths and the terrible things that happen when these things fail. We're lucky on this one case that my constituent was able to talk about it now, rather than having her family read about her accident in the paper.

I would just ask us to get back to this issue of the fact that there was indications of a problem. We have a problem that crosses over two major industries that have major, major impact on some communities in this country, and have influence on all the communities in this country, and that is between the automobile industry and the tire manufacturing industry.

And I think that we need to say, where was the breakdown in communication -- not just where blame rests -- and when and where and who could have avoided this problem? But also, how do we avoid it in the future, and how do we straighten this out to make sure that when a woman wants to drive her family on a vacation, or a husband wants to send his wife off on a trip -- a long-distance trip in her car, one of the things we don't have to worry about is a faulty tire that falls apart at high speed and causes a terrible accident? I think that's our challenge.

Our challenge is not to protect an industry, not to cover our employees' and employers' tails at this time. It's to make sure that not only do people have a job to go to, but they've also got a safe car to drive home in. And I would ask us to consider that as Democrats and Republicans, but most importantly, as Americans today.

And I yield back, Mr. Chairman.

WATERS: Brian Bilbray, representing an area in Southern California before the committee grilling begins of the -- of the witnesses in the Firestone recall hearing under way before two House subcommittees.

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