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Published on March 29, 1999

ROADSIDE TIRE DEBRIS SPELLS TROUBLE

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The tire industry has a problem. The amount of truck tire debris alongside U.S. highways is up significantly, according to the results of the latest Tire Debris Task Force study. By inference, therefore, truck tire failures are up as well. Some would argue it's a perceived problem. The number of trucks is up, as is the number of miles each one covers annually. So naturally there are more tires.

But when it comes to truck tire debris, the lines between perception and reality blur completely, at least in the minds of average motorists. They blame the problem, fairly or unfairly, on retreads—despite the best efforts of the Tire Retread Information Bureau.

The problem afflicts both new tires and retreads, but it's that perception and reality thing again. And worse, tire makers, re-treaders and dealers have little influence over the greatest cause.

The rising incidence of failures can be traced to several factors—increased speeds, heavier loads, high summer temperatures etc.—but the bottom line is tire maintenance. A neglected tire tends to be the one running underinflated, and underinflation is accepted as the cause for nearly 90 percent of tire failures.

Tire maintenance is the re-sponsibility of the fleet or truck owner and, ultimately, the driver who ``lives'' with his rig. He's also the guy who thinks monitoring tire pressures is ``not my job.''

It's no secret many trucking companies would like to get out of tire maintenance entirely. Most would happily turn this job over to tire dealers.

Unfortunately, few appear ready to compensate dealers adequately for carrying out these time- and labor-intensive operations.

However, tire users are not solely to blame, either.

The same task force study identified manufacturing-related problems as the probable cause of 8 percent of the tire failures analyzed, with repair-related failures cited for an additional 6 percent.

So, what's the solution?

Representatives of the tire and trucking industries have many suggestions—including driver incentives to keep tires aired up and truck- or trailer-mounted on-the-fly tire inflation systems—but no consensus on a solution.

Despite the industries' best efforts at self-policing, the problem persists and is getting worse. The solution inevitably may be legislation—as odious as it may seem to those involved.

Trucks get fined for being overweight or for losing cargo; why not for littering the highway with tire debris? It will take only one high-profile accident involving a "gator" to grab headlines and jump-start the legislative and/or litigation process.

For the tire industry's sake, we hope legislation can be avoided. But the average motorist in us would like more assurances that there's not going to be a gator around the corner waiting to bite us.

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