Massachusetts is considering An Act to Increase Road Safety (H3016), which will require issuance of a rejection certificate for any vehicle equipped with a light-truck or passenger tire, including a full-service spare, more than six years old. The bill would amend Massachusetts’s annual-vehicle-inspection law, failing vehicles equipped with a tire six years or older. The state inspectors will use the tire’s tire identification number or “TIN” to determine its age. A certificate of rejection authorizes vehicle operation for 60 days (20 for motorcycles) before correcting the “safety-related equipment defect(s).” If not timely corrected, the vehicle’s registration will be suspended – a serious penalty for Massachusetts residents since it is mandatory that all vehicles used on Massachusetts roadways be registered. It is unclear whether the bill applies to motorcycle tires.
Scheduled for a March 5, 2014, hearing before the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Transportation, An Act to Increase Road Safety, if passed, will be the first tire-aging restriction in the United States and will have far-reaching effects beyond the borders of Massachusetts.
In addition, An Act to Increase Road Safety could affect product liability cases nationwide. Plaintiffs in other states could argue that tire and vehicle manufacturers and dealers should have prohibited the use of tires that are six years or older, and will rely on Massachusetts’s new law as support for that opinion. Accordingly, if passed, the Act could causes the tire and auto industry to reevaluate current tire-related warnings and cause the tire manufacturers to expand their existing warnings. Currently, some tire and vehicle manufacturers recommend inspecting or replacing tires of a certain age, but not all these recommendations are consistent with the Massachusetts legislation. The tire and auto industry should also anticipate other states following Massachusetts’s lead by enacting similar laws, but with different age restrictions.
An Act to Increase Road Safety could complicate Massachusetts product liability for tires. It could result in joint and several liability among tire and auto manufacturers, Massachusetts-certified vehicle inspectors and vehicle owners. Moreover, owners and operator could be found comparatively negligent.