Enforcement and European tyre labelling

With just three months to go before the mandatory implementation of labelling in November 2012, there are still many questions to answer about exactly who will be enforcing the law and what the penalties will be.

As Tyres & Accessories has published in its pages before (See No teeth, page three in June’s issue and Labelling Chaos? on page 48 of the July edition for more on this) having a good legal framework is important. But this is completely dependent upon the successful enforcement of such laws. During the course of researching this article we quickly discovered that both the tyre business in general and the associations representing the various parts of it can do little more than shrug their collective shoulders when questions relating to enforcement are raised. Unfortunately this is true both on a national and continental level.

In order to illustrate this point, here’s an account of how one particular exchange went. After raising the question of who would be responsible for enforcement in the key markets that Tyres & Accessories is most actively involved in (the UK of course; Germany – through our sister publication Neue Reifenzeitung; and Italy – pneusnews.it) the only answer proffered went something like this: “we wish we knew.” And while it is always nice to be congratulated on the aptness of one’s questions during such discourse – the other part of the aforementioned conversation – it has to be said that it is verging on the ridiculous that a new law is about to be implemented and no-one knows who will do the enforcing.

No-one is blaming the associations for this. That would be shooting the messenger. And they rightly point out that the European and respective national legislatures are responsible for organising enforcement between them. But when the only information they can convey is that it is too early for anyone to claim to know about the penalties in any kind of detail, let alone the enforcement procedures or even the body responsible for enforcement – the enormous effort and investment contributed by the manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors involved in the tyre supply chain is in danger of being undermined from the start.

So, this article starts with a caveat paraphrased from the words of one leading tyre industry association representative – “I am not, and most likely nobody is, fully equipped” to answer these questions. Be that as it may, throughout this special Tyre Labelling-focused section Tyres & Accessories presents all the latest information available in an effort to enlighten the debate as far as is currently possible.

Who will be doing the enforcing?

For reasons we have already seen, it is not yet possible to answer this question definitively. What we can do is take the UK market as case study and look at who might throw their law enforcement hat into the ring. Overall the Department for Transport (DfT) is responsible for organising the introduction of tyre labelling on these shores. However, this government department can’t do the enforcing itself because it simply doesn’t have either the infrastructure or the manpower to carry out checks of the required scale or type. Therefore we have to turn to the usual suspects when it comes to transport related rules, which are the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA), Trading Standards and the Vehicle Certification Agency (VCA).

In general terms, when you speak to anyone around the members of parliament associated with the DfT nationally (this currently means either secretary of State for Transport Rt Hon Justine Greening MP or Parliamentary under-secretary of State Mike Penning MP) or the European Parliament on the continent about vehicle enforcement the first port of call tends to be VOSA. As well as pulling over trucks deemed in need of roadside checks in cars that can easily be mistaken for police vehicles, and overseeing the national Ministry of Transport (MOT) testing protocol, these are the people responsible for providing “a range of licensing, testing and enforcement services with the aim of improving the roadworthiness standards of vehicles, ensuring the compliance of operators and drivers, and supporting the independent Traffic Commissioners” in the UK. Despite its wide and seemingly ever-increasing remit, this department has been on the receiving end of a fair degree of criticism relating to its handling of changes to the MOT system such as the introduction of automatic test lanes and the IT infrastructure that supports this.

Trading Standards officers across the country are responsible for ensuring consumers are treated fairly, that any weights and measures used in the sales process are accurate and that products sold are compliant with current laws especially in terms of safety. Sound like a likely candidate for the job? Indeed anecdotal reports suggest that some Trading Standards officers (and we have to remember at this point that there is a fair degree of regionalisation with this department) have already been on a tyre labelling training courses. Now these reports haven’t been confirmed, but could suggest that there has been more preparation for the new rules than first meets the eye.

However, having said all that, the Vehicle Certification Agency has been widely touted as a front runner for months. This is somewhat surprising because it has to be said that VCA is perhaps the least well-known of the three. According to the agency’s website, VCA is what is known as an “executive agency” of the DfT. This means it is the national approval authority for new road vehicles, agricultural tractors and off-road vehicles and has close links with the UK government as well as with those responsible for European policy formulation, not to mention the enforcement of vehicle safety and environmental standards. In its own words it brings “the authority and back-up of government, but with the freedom to react to your changing needs.” All sounds good so far.

VCA is based in Bristol, with an office and test facilities on the MIRA site at Nuneaton and an office at the Millbrook proving ground near Milton Keynes, both of which are well known to the automotive tyre industries alike. The agency also has international ties with offices in the US, Japan, Malaysia, China, India, Italy and Australia. This paired with the authorisation of type approval certificates recognised throughout the European community is all seen as adding up to strong case.

The relationship with testing facilities such as MIRA and Milbrook could be of particular use when it comes to tyre labelling, which although not official reference centres are perfectly entitled to test tyres for labelling once the necessary steps have been taken. Tyre manufacturers Apollo Vredestein, Bridgestone, Continental, Goodyear, Michelin and Pirelli are all reference centres. Independent test centres IDIADA in Spain and TUV in Germany are also certified. MIRA and Milbrook, for example, (or indeed any test centre with appropriate equipment can test tyres for the labelling regulation). According to the BTMA, it is sufficient to align the equipment with that in one of the nine reference labs. This amounts to establishing the appropriate correction factor to allow for differences between testing machines. Once this task is completed the new laboratory is in business.

The outside bet is the National Measurement Office. This body exists to ensure the UK’s system of weights and measures is fair, accurate and legal. It is also linked to the roll-out of labelling on white goods such as the perpetual example – refrigerators. However it is probably fair to say that there is fair wind blowing in the direction of an organisation that has particular automotive industry relevant knowledge or hands-on experience.

There is also a further option – some kind of combination of the above. With DfT’s penchant for VOSA (especially when it comes to commercial vehicle for which it already carries out inspections), the apparent Trading Standards labelling training and the VCA’s added international type approval and testing dimensions could there be some kind of three-way collaboration? If this is the case it is likely to take of the form of sub-contracting from the successful department.

So if you are into predictions, something which this title has learnt to steer clear following mis-prognostications in previous similar cases, the odds are on it being a two-horse race between the National Measurement Office and the VCA, with the VCA ahead by a length.

What will the penalties be?

Again there aren’t yet any official details of what penalties might be facing those that fail to supply labels, supply inaccurate or spurious labels or fail to mention labels during the sales process. What we can do is look at how earlier rules have been enforced in the tyre business, taking the UK and specifically REACH legislation as our example.

As you will remember, the so-called REACH legislation took effect on 1 January 2010 and meant that tyre manufacturers could no longer use aromatic PAH extender oils in production. Over the 18 months that followed European tyre manufacturer’s association, ETRMA investigated compliance and published two lists of products and manufacturers that failed. The results were contested by some of the tyre makers named, but nevertheless certain firms were implicated. This information was passed to the UK Environment Agency’s (EA) Chemical Compliance Team (CCT) which ran a full campaign on the subject of REACH compliance between 2010 and 2011.

The campaign was wide-ranging and quite separate from ETRMA’s efforts. EA pre-contacted 26 companies identified as being at higher risk of non-compliance. The information notices sent out required the submission of information about their involvement in the manufacture, import, purchase and sale of extender oils and tyres, and their PAH content.

In addition, the agency sent 14 guidance letters to key tyre importers and retailers deemed to be less risky, but still deemed to be “relatively high risk.” The industry at large was targeted through information on the Environment Agency’s website and an exhibit at Brityrex where CCT represented the Environment Agency and its Scottish and Northern Irish cousins SEPA and NIEA.

In addition audits and extender oil analysis were carried out at all four UK-based tyre manufacturers. And a selection of tyres available on the UK market – including products from around the world – were analysed and assessed for compliance according to ISO 21461. 18 tyres were purchased and analysed to determine compliance. EA even went as far as liaising with campaigns across Europe via Interpol.

However, for a variety of reasons – including but not limited to budgetary constraints – there have been no reports of any enforcement action. This is despite the fact that the UK courts could impose a theoretically unlimited fine and/or up-to two years imprisonment upon conviction of Reach-related offences (a wide range of similar penalties can potentially be enforced across the EU member states). In the case of the UK’s manufacturing plants, the lack of enforcement action could be explained by the professionalism of the respective operations and their early compliance with REACH regulations. However ETRMA’s reports would seem to suggest that some non-compliant tyres manufactured by a number of different companies did make their way into Europe.

All this means that the establishment of clear enforcement parameters and penalties are key to the successful introduction of labelling. And this depends on the clear and swift communication of all the relevant information to the market from the powers that be. The word on the street is that although the DfT has missed its unpublicised target of having appointed an enforcement body by now, there is nothing broken and nothing wrong in the process. Apparently it is all just taking longer than expected. However with some dubious labels – amongst other challenges – already surfacing, it must be a case of the sooner the better.

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