Tire malfunctions can result in vehicle accidents that injure and kill many people. In the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) 2016 report, statistics indicated that tire malfunctions resulted in approximately 733 deaths and more than 11,000 crashes. Here are several common reasons tire failures happen.

Under Inflation

One of the main reasons that drivers experience tire failure is under-inflation. When a driver’s tire becomes under-inflated, the tire flexes more in the sidewall and the increased flexing causes the tire to heat up far beyond normal operating temperatures. This problem, compounded with driving at high speeds during hot seasons, will quickly cause the rubber to degrade. Consequently, when a driver’s tire experiences this type of rubber degradation, the tire will explode because of a rapid loss of air pressure.

The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 393.75 governs the specific statutory requirements for tire pressure, it states, “(i) Tire inflation pressure. (1) No motor vehicle shall be operated on a tire which has a cold inflation pressure less than that specified for the load being carried.”

Improper Wear

Another primary reason for tire failure is improper wear due to misalignment or worn suspension parts. When this occurs, a tire can become completely worn on one area of the tire, and the driver will have no choice but to replace the whole tire. If the tire is not replaced, it poses a significant danger to the driver, as well as the other drivers sharing the road. This is especially true on large trucks as everyone has seen (and often had to swerve to avoid) semi and large truck tire treads that are often seen on laying around highways.

How to Identify Improper Tire Wear Yourself

There are two tread wear patterns that indicate this type of mechanical problem. The most common is tire wear that is associated with wheel misalignment. When this occurs, one or more of the wheel and tires are going down the road at an angle, which causes the rubber to wear much faster on one side of the tire compared to the other. The tire can be worn down to its breaking point, causing the wheel to break through the tread completely and send the car completely out of control.

The second wear pattern that indicates a mechanical problem with the vehicle is broken or worn out suspension parts. When suspension parts are broken or worn out, the wheel will begin to wobble. The wobble in the wheel creates either a cupping on the shoulder tread blocks of the tire rubber or as diagonal stripes of wear across the surface of the tread. These particular wear patterns are extremely dangerous because the tread-life of the tire diminishes significantly faster. Any service technician or tire professional can properly identify wear patterns on a tire tread that is associated with a mechanical issue.

Statutes and Agencies

The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 393.75 describes eight specific requirements that all truck tires must conform to. CFR 393.75: “No motor vehicle shall be operated on any tire” that:

  • Has body-ply or belt material exposed through the tread or sidewall;
  • Has any tread or sidewall separation;
  • Is flat or has an audible air leak;
  • Or has a cut to the extent that the body-ply or belt material is exposed.

The minimum tread depth for steer tires is 4/32-inch and 2/32-inch for any other wheel position.

The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) is made up of the law enforcement personnel who inspect commercial trucks on America’s highways. Every year, the CVSA publishes an Out-of-Service Criteria manual that identifies the common violations that render a commercial truck unqualified to drive. Commercial truck tire violations are specified in the manual.

Compliance, Safety, and Accountability (CSA) is another government program that impacts the regulation of truck tires. The CSA is administered by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) under the authority of the Department of Transportation. The CSA was implemented in 2010 with the hopes of improving commercial vehicle safety on America’s roads. The officers of the CSA inspect commercial truck tires and give them a “score.” Tires can receive either 3 or 8 points depending on the severity of their operating condition. The scoring conditions include running a tire below the legal tread depth limit, having exposed cords or wires, and tire pressure. By definition, a flat tire is considered any tire that has an inflation pressure of 50% or less of what is stamped on the tire sidewall. Even if only one tire has failed to conform to the standards of the CSA, the vehicle will be considered out-of-service and would require a roadside service call.

Tire Retreading

One of the most frequent causes of tractor-trailer accidents is retread detachments. Possible causes for retread detachment include fatigue failures such as under-inflation/overloading, excessive speed, unrepaired damages, repair defects, impacts, mounting damage, tire age, and internal rusting. (One of the most frequent causes of tractor-trailer accidents in America is a result of the retreading process; or moreover, the trucking industry’s negligent reliance on the safety tire retreading.)

Massive trucking companies rely on tire retreading because it is cheap. They ignore the massive safety risks retreading poses to drivers like YOU, so they save a buck here and there. There are very specific size, weight, and pressure regulations that they will often fail to meet. The regulations can be found in 49 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) § 571.117 Standard No. 117; Retreaded Pneumatic Tires.

Retreading is a re-manufacturing process that replaces the worn-out tire tread is replaced with a new tread made of recycled rubber. The old tread is buffered down to the casting, and the new tread is then wrapped around the newly buffed casing of the old tire. An adhesive is applied and the new tread is then “cured,” and a new tread design is applied. Nevertheless, retread tires are very problematic because when the adhesive fails (and it very often does), it renders the 50,000 lb tractor-trailer uncontrollable and barreling towards disaster—placing everyone in its path in significant danger of injury or death.

Another issue that frequently results in retread detachments is the condition of the tire casing. The reliability of retreads relates primarily to the ability to properly and adequately inspect the tire casing and determine if defects exist in the casing. Large commercial trucking companies, in an order to save time and money, often skip this step and overlook casting defects during the retreading process. The result is disastrous.

Recalled Tires

Another reason for tire failure is that the tire design itself falls below the legal operating standards established by NHTSA, forcing NHTSA to promptly investigate and ultimately recall the product for safety concerns. Many drivers are aware of the recall of their particular tire design, yet they are negligent in replacing them swiftly, leaving in extreme danger all the drivers that they share the road with.

When a tire complaint is filed with NHTSA, it is uploaded to a public NHTSA database. When the agency receives multiple complaints about the same product, it could indicate that a safety-related defect exists, and NHTSA can open up an investigation of that product.

NHTSA will conduct a detailed analysis of any petitions calling for defect investigations. If the petition is denied, the reasons for denial will be published in the Federal Register. If the petition is not denied, NHTSA conducts an investigation of the alleged safety defects. If, during their investigation, NHTSA determines that the tire creates an unreasonable safety risk or fails to meet minimum safety standards, it will promptly issue a recall of the product. Manufacturers are required to remedy the problem by repairing it or offering a refund.

Firestone Manufacturing Plant

There are various problems that occur during the manufacturing process of tires, however, the most prevalent problem occurs when major tire companies place an emphasis on quantity over quality. This problem was most prevalent in the early 2000's at the Firestone plant in Decatur, Illinois.

Firestone implemented a payroll system that paid employees a bonus for the number of tires they would manufacture. This lead to millions of “hurriedly made” tires that were completely unsafe for street use. Thus, a massive lawsuit was filed against Firestone. In court documents filed in the lawsuit against Firestone, 10 former employees assert sweeping problems in many phases of tire production at the Decatur plant. They explained Firestone’s overemphasis on quantity at the expense of quality, inadequate worker and supervisor training, sloppy manufacturing processes, and inadequate inspection systems. Dayton Keyes, a former supervisor at Bridgestone/Firestone’s plant in Decatur, proclaimed, “I feel really bad about that. That anybody could have died from a product that was built on my shift." Keyes quit his job at Firestone because of his concern over the quality of the plant’s tires. Darrell Batson, a 31-year employee of the plant who left during the strike, says it was a common occurrence for tires that came off the line with interior defects to be repaired and delivered to tire stores for sale rather than being scrapped, a practice of which he didn't approve. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration attributed hundreds of accidental deaths and injuries to the negligent manufacturing practices of the Decatur plant. The Firestone Wilderness and ATX tires would explode on local roads and highways, leaving the driver and everyone around them in extreme danger.

Accidents from Tire Failure Do Happen. Our Attorneys Are Here When You Need Us

The bottom line is: tire maintenance matters. Tire failure can lead to catastrophic consequences. Our firm has successfully handled numerous tire failure accidents. It is crucial to hire a law firm that has the experience, skill, and resources to complete a complex tire failure lawsuit from investigation to verdict.

Matthew L. White
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Founder & Partner of Louisville Personal Injury Law Firm Gray & White Law

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