I suppose you, like every motorist in the U.S., noticed the large amount of tire debris that littered our highways last summer. I thought it was bad last year, but it seems to be growing. Cars and trucks have to swerve around strips of tread and belt packages and other chunks of rubber and steel while running at highway speeds down the interstate.
In some cases, it's like picking your way through a minefield-and sometimes just as dangerous.
Most of the general public believe this tire debris is the result of bad retreads. In their zeal to rid the highways of these safety hazards, people have sought laws to ban or restrict retreads.
Last year Maine proposed ``An Act to Establish Truck Tire Safety Standards,'' despite the fact that the retreading industry already has strict standards. Pennsylvania petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to ``develop and adopt regulations which reduce potential for tread separation and casing failure.'' And Texas proposed a bill that would have required tire vendors to cut used tires to make them ``unusable for retreading.''
Fortunately, due to the hard work of the tire and retread in-dustries, these proposals died before becoming law. However, complaints that there ``ought to be a law'' against truck tire retreads will continue and may result in government regulation unless the industry acts to solve this problem.
Toward this end, The Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Associations created the Tire Debris Prevention Task Force, which I chair.
The Task Force determined that if truck tire retreads were banned, the tire industry would have to produce 15 million more truck tires a year-capacity it currently lacks.
As a result, the cost to purchase truck tires would rise another $3.8 billion annually. Disposal costs also would rise, with another 15 million more truck tires hitting the scrap pile each year. And since 250 million gallons of oil would be consumed a year in the production of the additional new tires, oil prices probably would rise as well.
The trucking industry would be forced to pass on these higher operating costs, resulting in higher prices on the goods it hauls-which includes just about everything we buy.
And, of course, a ban on truck retreads would virtually wipe out the entire retreading industry.
The Task Force felt that since no accurate study had been done to determine the primary causes of road debris since 1975, when bias tires were the norm and retreading was not as technologically advanced as it is today, another study should be conducted.
In the summer of 1995, teams of tire engineers selected by the Task Force analyzed road debris collected from interstate highways and turnpikes in six states. Of the 1,700 tires involved, 1,070 were medium truck, and the Task Force focused on these samples.
The study found that 96 percent of the truck tires were radial, and 74 percent had rib tread designs. The average tread depth of all the truck tire samples was 10/32 inch. Only 2 percent of the samples had less than 2/32 inch of tread remaining. Of the tires whose cause of failure could be determined, 90 percent failed due to underinflation/overloading.
Although the majority of the samples were from retreads, only 3 percent of the failures were due to the retreading process. It makes sense that the majority of the tires analyzed had been retreaded since as tires age, their exposure to road hazards, poor maintenance and fatigue increases. Then, too, more retreads are sold annually than new truck tires.
The study showed that the vast majority of conditions resulted in air loss situations that might have been prevented had the tire received a better pre-trip inspection during which foreign objects were removed, inflation pressures corrected and problem tires replaced.
Having established this fact-and a clear understanding that retreading itself is not at fault-the Task Force is mounting a campaign that attacks the root of the problem: poor truck tire inflation pressure maintenance.
The campaign, with the slogan ``Before you go, be sure you know,'' is aimed at fleets, owner-operators and the government sector. Its logo features a man using a guage to take a truck tire's pressure.
Fleets with 25 or more vehicles will be mailed a packet that includes: samples of training brochures for mechanics and drivers; dashboard stickers that remind drivers to check tire pressures with a gauge before trips; on-vehicle decals to remind personnel of the next inflation update; and a great discount on truck tire service gauges, valve caps and tread depth gauges, with ordering information.
Another brochure will be made available free of charge to truck drivers at 370 truck stops across the country. It will contain a coupon for ordering a Truck Tire Maintenance Kit, which includes a service air gauge, 18 valve caps and a tread depth gauge, at a discount of approximately $20.00. Additional truck tire maintenance tips will be included with these kits.
State and federal agencies and legislators will be sent booklets and videos explaining what causes tire debris and what the industry is doing to curb this problem.
This campaign will kick off by Nov. 1. The Tire Debris Prevention Task Force is raising funds to cover printing and postage costs and would welcome your financial-or at least verbal-support.
Make sure your truck tire customers know the importance of checking their tire pressures with a gauge-not just thumping or kicking them.
Let's sweep the rubber mines from the highway and make it a safer place for both drivers and retreads.