When you think of truck safety, you may not think of tires. And tires likely aren't first to come to mind when the subject is happier drivers. But there's an important connection in both cases, according to Michelin.
First, the safety point should be obvious, but isn't always. "People ask sometimes, 'Why are tires involved in safety? It's a big, black donut that holds up whatever I'm driving,'" quipped Mike Cain, vice president of original equipment and military at Michelin Americas Truck Tires.
"But in fact, being the only part of the vehicle that actually touches the earth, the tire does have an impact on a multitude of vehicle systems that are related to safety," he added. Cain spoke earlier this week at Volvo Trucks North America's Safety Symposium held at the Michelin Laurens Proving Grounds.
Any fleet maintenance manager can tell you stories of blowouts. Regarding safety, Cain pointed out, tires a fleet specs affect road-holding for cornering; steering responsiveness particularly in fast maneuvers; and traction — or lack thereof — in good conditions and adverse ones like heavy rain, snow or ice. There's also braking, acceleration and more where tires play a large role.
Consider also the quality of the tire material and durability — will tires hold out or blow when your trucks are rolling down a stretch of highway in July and heat waves are warping the view ahead?
But in addition to safety, tires also are a key factor in trucks' fuel economy, Cain noted, and that also means lower or higher emissions. "Vehicle fuel economy is greatly impacted by the level of rolling resistance of the tire," he said. "The vehicle's greenhouse gas emissions are directly tied to tire performance."
Effects on drivers
So now the discussion has made the transition to happier drivers. When tires are more reliable and don't leave drivers waiting on the side of the road for a tow, or more fuel-efficient trucks mean more range and less frequent stops to tank up, drivers will be earning more and frustrated less.
At the expansive Michelin testing facility in Laurens, SC, Cain explained that the tire maker tests "everything, basically, except aircraft tires here — although some of our tracks are probably long enough to land an aircraft on." That includes vehicles from two-wheelers to heavy trucks and earth movers, and Michelin studies tires' limits and multitude of effects on those vehicles on the facility's 12 test tracks spread over 3,300 acres.
But it's not only road-related and vehicle performance — Michelin also takes into account tires' effect on drivers, Cain told reporters.
"It's noise, comfort and even driver fatigue, how well the vehicle tracks on a road. The tire plays a role in all that, and we look at all of it when we're developing tires," he said. "Driver fatigue is something that we have to pay attention to."
The takeaway: Less fatigued, frustrated and interrupted drivers piloting quieter trucks with better road-holding in all conditions, greater steering agility and higher fuel economy equals, you guessed it: happier drivers. That's all a win-win for fleets as well — keep that in mind the next time you choose what tires to spec.