Tired Blowouts are Dangerous Road Hazard

By: Patricia Woloch

Truck tire blowout, often caused by defective tires, is a very serious road hazard that often results in collisions with injuries and fatalities. We have all probably seen the remnants of a blown truck tire scattered across a highway, and many of us had to do some skillful maneuvering to avoid running over these "road gators" or to avoid them hitting our vehicles after the car in front of us has run over them.

Debris littering the highways causes over 25,000 accidents and at least 100 deaths each year in the United States and Canada. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reports that blown tire pieces are the number one road debris.

Proper Inflation

Studies have shown that most tire and scrap rubber debris on the roadways is caused by under-inflation of tires, which makes the tire susceptible to cuts and flats. When a truck tire comes apart, it can often cause a failure in the other tires, either from a puncture from the debris or from other tires having to carry a disproportionate share of the load, which causes overheating and tire failure.

Most tire-related truck accidents are caused by improper tire inflation. These accidents are avoidable; truckers need to maintain the proper inflation for a given tire size and load. It is not the tire, but the air inside the tire that carries the weight of the vehicle, absorbs shock and keeps the tire in its proper shape so it can perform as designed. This is the single most critical factor for getting the safest and longest life out of tires.

Tires flex when they roll, bending the tire's rubber and steel cords. The flexing generates heat, and tire wear is the result of friction created between the road's surface and the tread as the tire rolls along. Heat is a tire's worst enemy. A tire that is improperly inflated does not roll as smoothly or as easily as it was designed to roll. The result is an uneven, irregular tire footprint-the portion that makes contact with the road surface. This inconsistent shape leads to increased wear, reduced traction and performance, and handling problems. The concentrated flexing caused by under-inflation leads to premature wear and fatigue of the tires.

When tires are over-inflated, excessive wear occurs at the center of the tread because it will bear the majority of the vehicle's weight. Over-inflated tires tend to not absorb road hazards like debris in the road and potholes, increasing the risk of sustaining a puncture or impact damage.

Safety Measures

Tire pressure should only be checked when a tire is cold (before a vehicle is driven or has been driven less than a mile). Once a vehicle has been driven, tires warm up and there is an increase in air pressure resulting in an inaccurate reading. After driving a truck, a "hot" tire can take several hours to cool down.

Tire pressure should be checked regularly, as often as once per week with a properly calibrated tire gauge. Kicking or thumping the tires is not an effective way to see if they need air. Just as you don't thump on the hood to see if you need oil, you don't thump on the tire to see if you need air.

Alignment also needs to be checked on a regular basis. A truck driver, while inspecting his truck, should be on the lookout for wheel problems and tire injuries. Rubbing your hand along the tread and sidewalls to feel for problems like flat spots, cuts, shoulder wear, bulges, sidewall damage, etc. is a good way to check for obvious problems. These simple and quick checks can help you avoid, or at least minimize the number of, catastrophic accidents.

All drivers should stop immediately once a tire problem is detected. Even continuing on to the nearest rest stop or weigh station can be disastrous. Tires driven with improper air pressure will eventually come apart, and the results can be deadly.

Maintaining proper air pressure in all tires is absolutely imperative while driving your truck across the nation's highways. Ensuring your tires are properly inflated just may save your life and the lives of those traveling beside you.

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