NAE Looks to Prevent Another Firestone Tire Disaster
Shawn Wasserman posted on May 29, 2015 |
NAE looks to prevent engineering disasters with new ethics education.
Firestone Wilderness AT tire failure, courtesy of

Firestone Wilderness AT tire failure, courtesy of

The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) is looking to improve ethics education within bachelors and masters programs. They are asking the engineering community to submit ethics activities that teach students ethical practices, research and leadership within an engineering context.

Selected activities will be awarded as an NAE Exemplar in Engineering Ethics Education. These activities will be shared with partner institutions and the Online Ethics Center website to improve engineering ethics education elsewhere.

Ethics education isn’t new to engineering education. Many schools, organizations and educators have incorporated tales of engineering disasters that were easily avoidable into the curriculum.

“The Firestone tire disaster of 2000 is a case in point,” said Jim Anderton, director of content at, who reported on the story extensively for CARS Magazine. “Firestone’s Wilderness AT and later ATX tires were designed without a nylon cap ply in the tire carcass. Operated at recommended air pressures, this presented no problems, and the tires performed well in testing.”  

“Firestone management cleared the tire for operation below the originally recommended pressure at the request of the customer, Ford Motor Company,” he added, “At lower pressures, the result was a smoother ride and improved handling in the intended application, the Ford Explorer. However, lower inflation pressure led to increased heat buildup — especially in hot climates — causing tread separation tire failures and several fatalities.”

“Ironically, Firestone had received a supplier award from General Motors for the same tires used in a Chevrolet pickup truck operating at the recommended pressures,” noted Anderton. “Operating the product at lower than recommended pressures was an unknown and was not tested.”

Had the Firestone marketing team listened to the warnings of the engineering team, clearly fatalities could have been avoided. Ethics classes can provide strategies engineers should implement when faced with such an ethical problem such as superiors pushing for untested operating conditions of a product.

The obligation recited by Canadian engineering students during the Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer. Courtesy of Joebobfrak Wikipedia.

The obligation recited by Canadian engineering students during the Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer. Courtesy of Joebobfrak Wikipedia.

To that end, many U.S. schools have implemented the Order of the Engineer, or Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer in Canada, where it originated. These organizations encourage engineering students to recite an obligation upon receiving a special ring. The iron ring is worn on the pinky of their dominant hand — and the thud of the ring on the table is meant to remind them of an obligation to protect society when signing engineering documents.

As for the NAE Exemplar in Engineering Ethics Education program, there are some requirements your activity must meet to be eligible. For instance, the activity should have a partnership with one or more colleges or universities. However, the educator does not need to be a faculty member and the activities do not need to be housed within an academic institution. To find out more contact the NEA Center for Engineering Ethics & Society (CEES).

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