Gator facts

Sept. 9, 2014
Despite evidence to the contrary, perceptions of retread dangers persist

Even though the peak “gator” season is coming to end, the issue of tire debris on the side of the road is not going away.  When people find out I’m in the tire business, too many of them still want me to “do something about all of the retreads on the side of the road.” My typical response is that the tire debris they see on the highway is not a retread issue.  It’s more of an inflation pressure and heat problem that can cause any tire to come apart.

Unfortunately, most people don’t want to hear that.  They are convinced that I’m just another corporate spokesman trying to pull the wool over the eyes of unsuspecting motorists. In their opinions, if the government would just ban retreads, then the problem would be solved and the only litter on the highways would be the trash that is unsightly but not dangerous.

Fortunately, the Tire Retread and Repair Information Bureau (TRIB) released a new video that should answer most of the questions regarding tire debris. “Rubber on the Road” is a quick nine-minute look at the facts and is focused on a 2008 report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).  The “Commercial Medium Tire Debris Study” examined 300 casings and 1,196 tire fragments from five Interstate highway locations across the country.  Based on the forensic analysis from industry experts, the study concluded that approximately 57% were original tread tires and only 43% were retreads.

More importantly, the top three reasons for failure were road hazards (32%), maintenance/operational factors (30%), and over-deflected operation (14%). Less than 10% of all the casings collected showed any manufacturing conditions that contributed to the tire failing while in service. And of the 1,196 tire fragments that were collected, the top two reasons for removal were road hazard (39%) and excessive heat (30%).

It’s also important to note that the NHTSA study did not collect or analyze any roadside tire debris related to passenger and light truck tires. I travel about 80 mi. of Interstate highway each day and have seen countless cars, pickups and SUVs on the shoulder with shredded tires. The Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC) conducted surveys of rubber on the road in 1995 and 1998;  all of the debris was collected and analyzed. TMC reported that more than one-third of the samples were attributed to passenger and light truck tires.

Public opinion is incredibly difficult to change, so organizations like TRIB continue to reinforce the message that tire inflation pressure maintenance and inspection are the best methods for preventing tire debris on the highways. “Rubber on the Road” is just one of several videos at that focuses on data rather than anecdotal observations or biased opinions of the uninformed. The facts say retreads are safe, economical and environmentally friendly.

Of course, safety pundits will continue to pollute the airwaves and the Internet with their “expertise.”  They’ll focus on a couple of isolated instances where tire debris resulted in a serious or fatal accident to make their point. And they’ll conveniently overlook the fact that less than 1% of all crashes involve a defective tire and the number of accidents where a driver swerves to avoid rubber on the road ranges from 0.01% to 0.2%. But tires are going to keep failing on the highway because hazards are always present and inflation pressure maintenance is constantly in need of improvement.

Despite the efforts of  TRIB, some motorists will never stop complaining about gators because they are easily influenced by segments of the media that don’t want to let the facts get in the way of a good story.

Kevin Rohlwing can be reached at [email protected]

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