I t's a shame that the average motorist still thinks retreads are the cause of roadside tire debris despite the fact that every credible study has proven this to be false. I guess it's just another example of how hard it is to change public opinion. When a truck tire fails on the highway and scatters pieces of rubber and belt package, it's often a nuisance for other motorists and can result in minor body and/or suspension damage. Serious accidents are typically related to high-speed evasive maneuvers that can cause the driver of the vehicle to lose control after trying to avoid the debris, but these accidents are rarely fatal from a purely statistical perspective.
The same cannot be said for wheel-off incidents where inflated truck tire and wheel assemblies become separated from a vehicle and turn into 200-lb. unguided missiles. At highway speed, the force of a tire traveling 65 mph results in a level of destruction that can only be described as devastating when it strikes an oncoming vehicle. Wheel-off accidents tend to make headlines because they often result in major damage with fatal results for all of the unfortunate occupants in their path.
But the danger does not stop at loose wheels. When bearings are improperly installed, poorly maintained, or operated with insufficient or contaminated oil, excessive heat in the wheel end can cause a fire, which can consume the vehicle and the contents of the cargo area if the tires fully ignite. Likewise, improperly adjusted and frozen brakes can also generate extreme heat levels that have the potential to set the tires on fire.
Prevention starts with proper inspection by drivers and proper installation by maintenance personnel. The Tire Industry Assn. (TIA) and Michelin North America (MNA) have partnered to develop a training video on wheel-end safety. To demonstrate the damage caused by a wheel-off, a plan was put into place to controllably release a tire and wheel assembly from a trailer traveling at highway speed and then place a parked car in its path. Nobody took the time to actually calculate the odds of pulling this off and filming it, but lightning struck on a cold Sunday morning in November.
And when I say struck, I mean struck — right in the middle of the driver's door, with a camera on the trailer to record the moment the wheels became loose and another camera on the inside of the car for a first-hand view of the impact. Add the camera behind the car and the slow-motion wide shot, and viewers get to see a real-life depiction of what happens when an inflated truck tire and wheel assembly strike a parked vehicle. If this footage doesn't convince fleets and commercial tire dealers that wheel-end safety is a matter of life or death, then the future of both industries has to be in question.
Summer months bring warmer temperatures and increased highway traffic, so training drivers and maintenance personnel to look for the signs of a potential wheel-end fire or wheel-off is more important than ever. TIA's Wheel-End Safety video is available for free download at www.tireindustry.org and at MNA's web site at www.michelintruck.com. Both organizations are encouraging everyone to copy and distribute the video to as many people as possible so the industry can take steps to improve wheel-end safety.
In most cases, a wheel-off or wheel-end fire can be prevented if those responsible for driving and maintaining the vehicles look for a few simple signs and follow some basic procedures. This video will surely get their attention.