The United States' largest auto insurer said Tuesday that it began complaining three years ago to Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. about an unusually high accident rate involving its Firestone brand tires and took its concerns to the government last year but never got a response.
Meanwhile, the number of accidents and traffic deaths associated with the tires Firestone is recalling continued to climb Tuesday, prompting some safety organizations to repeat demands for a broader recall of the company's light-truck and sport-utility tires.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which has been investigating the Firestone accidents since May 2, said it now has processed a total of 575 complaints, involving 54 deaths, that name various Firestone brand tires including the ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT models being recalled.
A spokesman for State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance said the insurer noticed as early as 1997 that Firestone tires were involved in an unusually high number of accidents and started complaining about the problem to the tire maker.
Bridgestone/Firestone declined to comment Tuesday on State Farm's allegations. But representatives of Ford Motor Co. -- whose SUVs and other light trucks used most of the estimated 6.5 million tires being recalled -- had said Sunday that they believed Firestone was aware as early as 1997 of a growing number of incidents involving tire tread separation.
State Farm spokesman Bill Sirola said that the insurer took its concerns to the government last year with a report to NHTSA but that the agency never responded.
That comment drew a blank at NHTSA, which has been criticized for not spotting the tire problem sooner.
"That's news to me," said Ken Weinstein, the agency's associate administrator for safety assurance
The disclosure by Bloomington, Ill.-based State Farm, which insures about 20 percent of the drivers in the United States, could provide more ammunition to consumer groups and personal-injury attorneys, who complain that Firestone, Ford and government investigators moved too slowly in dealing with the problem tires.
"This is yet another source of information that should have alerted Firestone," said Washington attorney Gary Mason, who is trying to organize a class-action suit on behalf of Ford Explorer owners.
Most of the tires subject to the recall were installed as original-equipment tires on 1991 and later Ford Explorers as well as on various models of Ford F-150 pickups, Mercury Mountaineers, Mazda Navajo SUVs and Ford Ranger and Mazda B-Series mini-pickups.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.