Conducting a test this summer to quantify the effects of air pressure and speed on truck tire casing integrity is a sound idea as far as it goes. But we'd like to see this research carried further to determine the causes and cures for truck tire neglect.
Any dealer who services truck fleets can attest that underinflation, speed and high operating temperatures take a heavy toll on truck tires.
For decades, tire dealers and manufacturers have told truck owners about the necessity of monitoring and maintaining adequate inflation pressure.
Unfortunately, the message has fallen on deaf ears, for the most part.
Surveys by manufacturers indicate nearly one in four truck tires is run underinflated.
That translates into a huge, unnecessary cost for truck operators. Industry research shows that treadlife decreases between 9 and 16 percent with each 10-percent drop in inflation pressure.
Commercial tire dealers and retreaders see the unfortunate results of tire abuse daily as they go about keeping North America's truck fleet rolling on safe rubber.
Perhaps this summer's test by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and The Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Associations will underscore to truckers the importance of paying attention to tire inflation.
Driving this research is a perceived increase in tire debris along the nation's interstate highways—particularly in the Southwest where soaring temperatures and liberalized speed limits are especially hard on tires.
The study also seeks to quantify the detrimental effects of low tire pressure and increased vehicle speed on casing integrity.
Sponsors hope it will provide data useful in reducing or eliminating the unsightly and potentially hazardous tire fragments that litter the highways.
This information will certainly be useful. But there's an equally important issue here. What must truck fleets and owner-operators do to assure tires last their expected lifetimes?
NHTSA and TMC would perform a great service by digging deeper into this issue.
Why, for example, do drivers run on underinflated truck tires until they fail? Do drivers check and adjust for low tire pressure? Do tight delivery schedules affect whether tires are checked? How can fleets and owner operators remedy this situation?
We encourage NHTSA and TMC to expand their study to address these issues. The answers will go a long way toward resolving the problems caused by underinflated truck tires.