More than a quarter of automobiles and about a third of light trucks (including sport utility vehicles, vans, and pickup trucks) on the roadways of the United States have one or more tires underinflated 8 pounds per square inch (psi) or more below the level recommended by the vehicle manufacturer, according to a report by the Department of Transportation's (DOT) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). A decrease in tire pressure can be caused by poor maintenance, driving habits, punctures, road conditions, and the quality of material used in tire construction. According to tire experts, under normal driving conditions, air-filled tires can lose from 1 to 2 psi per month as air permeates through the tires. Vehicles with underinflated tires have had handling problems that caused crashes resulting in fatalities and injuries. In addition, the fuel economy of vehicles driving on underinflated tires is slightly lower. In response to a Congressional request for information on these issues, we addressed the following questions: (1) What is the impact of tire underinflation on safety and fuel economy, and what actions has the federal government taken to promote proper tire inflation? and (2) what technologies are currently available to reduce underinflation and what are their implications for safety and fuel economy?
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