Did confidential settlements prevent safety regulators from learning about all crashes involving Goodyear’s G159 tires? According to an investigation by to the transportation and vehicle website Jalopnik, at least one crash involving the tire was never recorded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — possibly because the people involved were prevented from notifying NHTSA by a confidentiality agreement.
The G159 may well be defective, especially when used on motorhomes and RVs. It was originally designed for regional delivery vehicles, according to records examined by Jalopnik. Nevertheless, Goodyear marketed the tires for multiple applications, which led to some 40,000 G159s being installed on RVs.
According to Jalopnik, the G159 tire failed on as many as 10 percent of motorhomes. That failure rate surpasses that of the 1990s Firestone tires that became infamous.
The tire was rated for travel up to 75 mph, which is the top highway speed in a number of states. The G159 failed Goodyear’s own internal tests for use at that speed, but the company put it out on the road anyway.
An Arizona attorney interested in the G159 sought to obtain a court order to unseal G159-related claims subject to confidentiality agreements. He obtained what was supposed to be a complete list of lawsuits and insurance adjustments for property damage, bodily injury and death involving the G159. There were over 40, although they did not include several cases identified by Jalopnik. The lawsuits claim that the G159 is prone to heat-induced failure at highway speeds when used on RVs.
That attorney’s efforts prompted a review by NHTSA that started in January. It has been 20 years since the first G159-related claims headed to court.
One case unearthed by Jalopnik involved Jim Wright and his wife Joyce. In 1999, they were traveling in their 1995 Fleetwood American Eagle RV when their front-left tire, a Goodyear G159 suddenly failed. Wright could not regain control of the RV and it eventually hit another RV in a head-on collision. Joyce Wright and a woman in the other motorhome were killed. Their deaths were officially the 11th and 12th linked to the G159.
A year later, Wright sued Fleetwood and Goodyear, claiming the specific G159 involved in the crash was “unsafe for its intended and foreseeable use, was more dangerous than the ordinary customer would anticipate, and the risk posed by the design of the product outweighed the utility of the design.” When the case was settled, Goodyear did not have to admit any guilt.