Tire shred victim: The recall system is broken

Consumer investigator Jim Strickland dug into claims that Firestone has recovered nearly all the tires from its notorious recalls involving the Ford Explorer.

Strickland and producer/photographer Josh Wade easily found recalled Firestone tires still sold and installed, and discovered the case of a Peachtree City woman injured for life in a crash involving a Firestone tire recalled more than a decade earlier.

"It immediately started swaying and then it started flipping," Kristen Rose said about her crash in a 1998 Ford Explorer in October 2012.

Strickland gained special access to a forensic lock-up where technicians are examining the SUV.  Rose had borrowed the Explorer from a friend, and had just dropped off her 4-year-old son when she crashed in Interstate 85 in Coweta County.  
The Firestone Wilderness AT on the rear driver's side had shredded. The accident report indicates the Explorer rolled three times in a wreck so violent, Rose was ejected out the back window.  She had to be airlifted to the hospital.
"I remember asking, you know, 'Am I going to make it? Somebody just tell me, am I going to make it?'" Rose told Strickland.
A professional model, Rose was left with a 4-inch scar on her head and limps from a fractured hip. She is unable to lift her son, Cayden.
"What was wrong with that tire? I want to know details about everything. = Something like that that can affect my life the way it has, I want to know every detail," Rose said.
Firestone had recalled the shredded tire 11 years earlier, in its second recall involving tires installed on Explorers and other vehicles.           
In an email, Bridgestone Firestone Vice President Paul Oakley claimed for the first time that Firestone and Ford together retrieved 1.5 million tires covered in Firestone's 2001 recall.  That's a recovery of 83 percent of the tires.
"Firestone says this is one of the most successful recalls of all time. The problem is, the numbers that they are using don't reflect the actual filings they've made with NHTSA (the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)," attorney Matt Wetherington, who is representing Rose in a lawsuit against Firestone and Ford, told Strickland.
Firestone has never filed those numbers with NHTSA regulators. Oakley said it would be inappropriate to do so since most of the tires were recovered by Ford.
NHTSA documents say Firestone tried to recover 768,000 and got back 90,000 tires, a 12 percent success rate.
"I can't tell you the number.  And neither can Ford, and neither can Firestone and neither can NHTSA. No one knows and the public isn't told that they don't know," Wetherington said.
Firestone's initial August 2000 recall covered 14.4 million tires.  But the company claimed less than half, 6.5 million, were still on the road.
"I think that number is bogus and the reason why is that these tires had incredibly long tread life," auto safety advocate Sean Kane said.
In fact, Firestone told Strickland it had recovered 97 percent of those on-the-road tires in only 10 months.  
In its final report, it claimed to have recovered more than 6.5 million tires. A recovery rate greater than 100 percent.
Compare that to what the NTSB's top crash investigator says is the average recovery for a tire recall: "To the best of my knowledge it's 20 percent or lower," Donald Karol said.
Questions about recall effectiveness surround other tire makers. A BF Goodrich tire recalled 18 months earlier detreaded in February on Interstate 75 in Florida, just south of the Georgia border.  
Two people inside the church van involved were killed in a rollover wreck.  They were headed to a camp in Covington.            
For the first time the National Transportation Safety Board is launching a special investigation into tire safety and a flawed recall system.
Do you think the recall system is broken in general?" Strickland asked Kristen Rose.
"Absolutely," Rose said.
Rose says all drivers deserve a fix of the recall system before the next tire shreds.
"It could be the car next to you," Rose said.