Bridgestone-Firestone, Ford and the FTA: State-Corporate Crime in the Tire Tread Separation Cases

Christopher W. Mullins, Southwest Illinois College

In the past two years, media coverage of tire tread separations on Bridgestone-Firestone tires sold to Ford for use on the Explorer line of SUVs has been extensive. The media, and government, response has been to treat this as a "normal accident" per the works of Charles Perrow. The issue is presented as one of multiple contingencies coming together in an unpredictable fashion--tire design, temperature and vehicle design. However, it is clear from the examination of existing evidence that both corporations involved, as well as the federal regulatory agencies, were aware of the potential problems and ignored them. Both Bridgestone-Firestone and Ford were reluctant to issue appropriate recalls and when the media exposed the pervasiveness of the problem to the public, entered into a high stakes game of blame "hot potato" as to which corporation would take ultimate responsibility. All the while, the FTA stood idel refusing to use its regulatory power to enforce recalls or assign corporate responsibility (or even address the problem prior to media exposure). This essay will utilize state-corporate crime theory and concepts to analyze the actions of these three organizations to come to a broad understanding of how and why these crimes occurred.

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Updated 05/20/2006