Figures from the DfT show that between 2013 and 2018, illegal, defective or underinflated tyres contributed to nearly 3,500 accidents nationwide, while in mid-February a vehicle was seized by Lothian Police with tyres so worn down, the inside wires were showing through.
Yet proper tyre management has probably never been more important on the UK’s roads. Recent inclement weather conditions, including the impact of Storms Ciara, Dennis and Jorge, mean roads have remained wet for long periods
Why are tyres so important?
Tyres are the only physical link between a vehicle and the road. They carry the entire vehicle, a load which can be up to 50 times their own weight. They are designed to operate at an optimum pressure - and deviations from this can radically affect their ability to safely perform the tasks required of them.
Keeping them in optimum condition, and changing them when necessary, is crucial for both legal compliance and the safety of both drivers, other road users and pedestrians.
The punishments for non-compliance are swingeing – a penalty of up to £2,500 and three penalty points on the driver’s licence, for each illegal or defective tyre.
All tyres have a tread which is primarily for water dispersal. At a speed of 70 mph, each tyre could be pumping three gallons of water every second. Tread depth impacts significantly on wet braking efficiency. It will take around 50% longer to brake from 62 to 37 mph with tyres at the legal minimum depth, compared with new tyres.
However, it is estimated that more than 50% of vehicles on UK roads have at least one tyre below the 1.6mm minimum legal tread depth. Meanwhile, around two fifths of motorists are driving on under-inflated tyres.
This is not just dangerous - it is wasteful of fuel and damages the environment too. Current estimates put annual wastage at around 244 million litres of fuel, emitting a further 600,000 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere.
Getting the best out of tyres
• Tyres should always be inflated to the pressure stipulated in the vehicle handbook. This will ensure optimum grip and fuel economy, while minimising the risk of punctures. Inflation pressures are also frequently listed on a label in the driver door shut panel area.
• Inflation pressures should always be checked when the tyres are cold. A long journey at high speed will heat the tyres up, increasing pressure typically by 0.2-0.4 bar.
• Valve caps should always be replaced as they help prevent dirt ingress.
• A visual inspection of the tyre tread and sidewalls should also be carried out at least weekly by the vehicle driver, with any areas of concern reported.
• Drivers should look well ahead and plan road positioning to help avoid contact with debris and potholes.
• Drivers should minimise ‘dry steering’ – where the wheels are turned while the vehicle is stationary, which usually occurs while parking – to cut tyre wear.
• At every service, the steering tracking should be checked, as inaccurate tracking can cause excessive wear and handling problems.
• Vibration through the steering wheel could indicate a tyre balance problem, which will need to be examined by an expert.
• The legal minimum tread limit is 1.6mm across three-quarters of the tread width for the entire circumference. However, the AA recommends replacing tyres when they reach 2mm. Tread can be checked using the Tyre Wear Indicator [TWI], a raised bar between the tyre tread. If this is level with the rest of the tread, the tyre has reached the end of its useful life.
• Serious damage to tyres is not always immediately apparent. If in doubt, tyres should be checked by a specialist.
• Finally, in the event of a puncture, the driver should not attempt to replace the wheel themselves. The best course of action is to pull over and summon roadside assistance. Around 1,000 drivers a week are able to get back on their way quickly thanks to the AA’s award-winning Multi-Fit Spare Wheel – read more here: https://www.theaa.com/about-us/newsroom/innovation-and-technology/aa-multi-fit-wheel