PHOENIX, Ariz.—An Arizona Department of Transportation study on tire debris was issued a year before anyone in the retreading industry knew about it—and that doesn't please the head of the Tire Retread Information Bureau.
TRIB is contacting the transportation and highway patrol departments in all 50 states to find out if any further highway studies that concern retreading are being conducted or planned, and to offer the industry's help if so, said Harvey Brodsky, managing director of the Pacific Grove, Calif.-based group.
"This is the first thing we're doing to prevent being blindsided," Mr. Brodsky said. Although the ADOT study is not unfavorable to retreads, the very fact that the retread industry was surprised with it is unsettling to Mr. Brodsky.
The study, which analyzes tire debris in metropolitan Phoenix, was published in November 1999. Its summary states that retreaded truck tires are "disproportionately represented" in all samples of tire debris surveyed, comprising between 71 and 89 percent of the total.
But the study also finds tire debris a minuscule safety problem, accounting for only 0.07 percent of all road accidents in Arizona and 0.02 percent in Maricopa County, where Phoenix is located.
"I would say that rubber on the road is such a small problem it doesn't merit attention compared with more serious problems," said John Semmens, ADOT project manager in charge of the study.
The study concludes that tire debris is caused mainly by poor maintenance, underinflation and punctures due to road hazards.
"A ban on retread tires would unnecessarily burden trucking companies without addressing the root causes of most tire failures," it said, adding that "a significant portion" of the problem could be solved without government action.
Several technological devices for trucks—especially a system which monitors and adjusts air pressure in truck tires while the truck is in motion—hold the greatest promise to solve the tire debris problem, according to the study. "With over 60 percent of tire failures attributed to underinflation, widespread adoption of such systems stands to reduce the amount of tire debris on the roadway considerably," it said.
Jason Carey, a graduate student at Arizona State University, was the contractor who performed the study for ADOT. The final report contains a few minor errors, but overall is very thorough and fair, according to Mr. Brodsky.
"If I were grading this as a term paper, I'd give him an A," said Mr. Brodsky, who said he found out about it from a reporter at CBS News. "But it still concerned me: How did he go about doing this without contacting us?"
Mr. Brodsky contacted Mr. Carey, who told him he indeed had contacted TRIB for information; he simply hadn't identified himself. Not learning or remembering the identity of all callers is not unusual at TRIB, Mr. Brodsky said. "We get close to 100 calls a week."
Mr. Brodsky said fleet neglect of retreads and Phoenix's prioritization of procuring retreads for its large vehicle fleet can explain why retreads made up large amounts of the tire debris found by the study.
James L. Anderson, Phoenix's fleet tire program manager, thought the proportion of retread tire debris found in the study must be higher than in reality. He said that the city retreads 7,500 tires a year. Of those that failed, three were retread failures, while the rest were casing failures.