Don't Tread on Me: Faster than a Tire Blowout, Congress Passes Wide-Sweeping Legislation that Treads on the Thirty-Five Year Old Motor Vehicle Safety Act

41 Pages Posted: 9 Apr 2004

See all articles by Kevin M. McDonald

Kevin M. McDonald

VW Credit, Inc.; Washington University School of Law


In the wake of one of the most controversial recalls ever to strike the automotive industry, the 106th Congress passed the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability, and Documentation (TREAD) Act on October 11, 2000, which President Clinton signed into law on November 1, 2000.

The TREAD Act amends the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 (Vehicle Safety Act) in response to unanswered questions surrounding the (lack of) reporting of potential defect information that led to the recall of over fourteen million Bridgestone/Firestone ATX, ATX II, and Wilderness AT tires on August 9, 2000. Prior to this recall, numerous complaints on file with National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) had alleged that the Firestone tires, which Ford Motor Company (Ford) mounted as standard equipment on Ford Explorers, suffered tread separation causing vehicle rollover that culminated in death or serious bodily injury. Congress was distraught to learn that Ford failed to notify NHTSA of the numerous tire-related safety campaigns conducted by Ford in overseas markets and the numerous lawsuits filed against Bridgestone/Firestone. Even more distressing to Congress was that, while Ford was required to notify NHTSA of safety campaigns conducted in the United States, Ford was not required under law to report the very same safety campaigns conducted in overseas markets.

This article examines the TREAD Act's massive impact on the thirty-five year old Vehicle Safety Act. Part I (Background) traces the origins of the Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 before turning to the Ford-Firestone tire recall events, which ultimately culminated in high profile congressional hearings and eventual passage of the TREAD Act in October 2000. Part II (Analysis) focuses on the text and impact of the TREAD Act, in particular, the impact both on NHTSA and the automotive industry. Further, Part II points out major differences between the Senate and House versions and offers suggestions for NHTSA to consider as it undertakes numerous rulemaking activities implementing the TREAD Act. The article concludes by focusing on issues NHTSA will need to address as it undertakes to implement the numerous TREAD Act mandates.

Keywords: TREAD Act, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, NHTSA, Vehicle Safety Act

JEL Classification: K23, K32

Suggested Citation

McDonald, Kevin M., Don't Tread on Me: Faster than a Tire Blowout, Congress Passes Wide-Sweeping Legislation that Treads on the Thirty-Five Year Old Motor Vehicle Safety Act. Buffalo Law Review, Vol. 49, p. 1163, 2001. Available at SSRN:

Kevin M. McDonald (Contact Author)

VW Credit, Inc. ( email )

2200 Ferdinand Porsche Dr.
Herndon, VA 20171
United States
703-251-5107 (Phone)


Washington University School of Law ( email )

Campus Box 1120
St. Louis, MO 63130
United States


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