WASHINGTON (AP) Twenty-six more deaths from traffic accidents involving Firestone tires have been reported to federal investigators, whose inquiry now is expected to last until at least summer.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has collected reports of 174 fatalities and more than 700 injuries among more than 6,000 complaints citing tread separations, blowouts and other problems with certain Firestone tires.
That”s up from 148 deaths and more than 525 injuries when NHTSA last updated its figures three months ago.
The agency is examining whether Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.”s August recall of 6.5 million ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires is sufficient or needs to be expanded to include other models that may have problems. The tire maker maintains that its recall covers all defective tires.
None of the deaths reported in the latest update occurred since the recall.
An Associated Press analysis of NHTSA”s complaint data found at least 11 of the deaths involved Firestone tires not included in the recall.
Former NHTSA Administrator Sue Bailey, a Clinton appointee who left the post last month when President Bush took office, made the investigation her top priority and had said she hoped it would be completed during her tenure.
But a NHTSA official who did not want to be identified said yesterday that her prediction was “overly optimistic” and that the investigation would probably take as long as an average inquiry, wrapping up sometime in the next six to 12 months.
“We expect it will be at least the summer before it is wrapped up, if not longer,” the official said. “It”s a very complex investigation and we want to be very thorough.”
Bridgestone/Firestone and a university professor hired by the tire company to examine what caused some tires to fail reached similar conclusions. They say it is a combination of faulty design, manufacturing processes at the company”s Decatur, Ill., plant and outside factors such as hot weather and overweight vehicles.