In the wake of a deadly traffic accident involving a tire that had been recalled and was supposed to be off the road, the National Transportation Safety Board has launched a first-of-its kind investigation of how defective tires end up on the road.
Only about one out of five recalled tires is actually returned to the manufacturer, according to NTSB investigators.
An ABC News investigation found that a badly-flawed and archaic government recall system has permitted millions of potentially dangerous tires to remain in use, on store shelves for sale or simply unaccounted for.
In a report to be broadcast tonight on "World News With Diane Sawyer" and "Nightline", undercover reporters from ABC stations in Atlanta and San Francisco found recalled tires still for sale at some retail outlets.
The NTSB investigation was triggered, in part, by a fatal accident in Florida involving a church van with a defective tire that apparently neither mechanics nor church officials were aware had been recalled a year earlier.
Two adult church leaders were killed and eight others were injured, most of them teenagers.
"The recall tire was on this van for about 18 months when the crash happened," said Don Karol, the NTSB investigator leading the tire probe.
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Karol said the issue of recalled tires was one of a number of safety concerns that led to the investigation.
"We found that tire safety is something that we wanted to take a broader look at," said Karol.
A spokesman for the tire industry, Dan Zielinski, of the Rubber Manufacturers Association, said he was unaware of the NTSB investigation until informed by ABC News.
"Our members prioritize safety," he said. "If they have a report coming out, we'd be very eager to see what it is."
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According to the NTSB's Karol, there are "400 to 500 deaths a year, at least, from crashes involving tire-initiated events," including tires that could have been underinflated, punctured or suffered from other pre-existing problems. The Rubber Manufacturers Association disputes that number, putting the estimate at approximately 200 fatalities per year, citing other NTSB figures.
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With Hundreds of Deaths, Feds Launch Investigation of Tires