NEW HAVEN, Conn.—Afraid that the tread on your vehicle's tires could separate while you're zooming down the highway?
Whether you drive an 18-wheeler, sport-utility or compact car, a new tread separation detection device soon could be on the market to ease your worried mind.
A patent for the Audible Vehicle Monitoring Apparatus (AVMA) was awarded in 1995—long before the Firestone recall alerted the world to the dangers of tread separation in August 2000.
In the 1980s, John Jennings, then a researcher with Pirelli Tire North America, came up with the idea for a similar device. But it wasn't until he retired in 1994 that he found time to devote to a patent proposal. The problem was, by then someone had beaten him to it.
After submitting a patent application, Mr. Jennings, who now owns Jennings Enterprise in New Haven, was told Richard Aduddell of California had already been given rights to a patent similar to his idea.
"I read his over and decided I wouldn't pursue it any further," Mr. Jennings said. "Then I called him and we talked about it. We both wanted to get this thing moving."
So with Mr. Jennings' knowledge and contacts in the tire industry, he has become the public relations person for the AVMA.
He has been sending out information on the safety device to different audio and electronics companies in an effort to get a cost estimate and possible manufacturer.
The device operates like this: A microphone is installed next to each tire—or for an 18-wheeler, between two duals. Before a tread separates, Mr. Jennings said it makes a distinct sound which the microphones pick up, activating a device mounted on the vehicle's dashboard. An orange caution light flashes, alerting the driver to pull over and remove the tire before it can unravel. As the tread separation becomes more severe, the light changes to red.
The AVMA can be installed with or without wires.
"It's not a complicated thing," Mr. Jennings said.
When it is finally produced, he predicted it should be a best seller, especially among trucking companies because costs related to delayed product delivery, roadside service and insurance can really add up.
"Think of the money trucking companies could save," he said.
But the device is beneficial to all drivers and vehicles, he said. In the case of 18-wheelers, the tires are too far away from the driver's ear to hear the sound a tread separation makes. And passenger car drivers may not know what the sound is if they can't hear it above the radio or other distractions.
"I'm very surprised that someone didn't do this sooner," he said. "It's so simple. That's probably why everybody thought that somebody else was doing something about it."