Federal authorities have opened another investigation into allegedly defective Goodyear G159 tires that have been linked to at least nine deaths and dozens of injuries — a signal that federal investigations now include a criminal probe of the tire maker’s activities.

The auto blog Jalopnik learned of the probe after filing a Freedom of Information Act request in July seeking records from the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General (OIG). The Inspector General’s office denied Jalopnik’s request, but in doing so cited an exemption under a federal statute that “protects information in law enforcement files” related to ongoing proceedings, Jalopnik said.

“The information you requested is contained in records related to an investigation that is ongoing,” the OIG wrote to Jalopnik. “Moreover, potential administrative, civil or other proceedings have not been ruled out.”

The Transportation Department’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is already investigating Goodyear Tire & Rubber for its handling of G159 tire-related crash complaints and whether the manufacturer failed to properly report accidents to federal regulators as required by law.

But the OIG, while also a unit of the DOT, acts as an independent law enforcement agency with the authority to investigate and prosecute both civil and criminal cases that have a public safety impact. Jalopnik notes that the DOT-OIG’s team includes criminal investigators who can refer cases to the U.S. Department of Justice for criminal prosecution.

NHTSA’s Office of Defect Investigations launched an investigation in December 2017 of Goodyear G159 275/70R 22.5 tires made between 1996 and 2003. Goodyear designed and manufactured the tires for use on urban pickup and delivery trucks but then expanded the G159 market by promoting the tires for use of recreational vehicles and motorhomes.

Goodyear’s decision to market the tires for RVs had disastrous consequences for many motorists. When driven regularly at highway speeds, the tire’s internal temperatures can overheat and cause a degradation of its material properties, which can lead to tread separations, tire blowouts, and a potentially deadly loss of vehicle control.

Court documents obtained by Jalopnik earlier this year indicate the manufacturer knew the G159 tires were unfit for use on RVs and worked to keep the scope and severity of the problem out of public view.

Goodyear already faces the prospect of massive fines for its handling of G159 tire complaints. Last month, NHTSA interim chief Heidi King told Congress that Goodyear faces a maximum penalty of $105 million if it failed to properly report G159 tire crashes to federal regulators.

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