Consumer media has once again turned its attention to the tire industry.
A recent Associated Press exclusive titled “Big Rigs Often Go Faster Than Tires Can Handle” has garnered the attention of national and local news outlets. The investigation claims that commercial truck operators often travel at speeds faster than what their tires can handle.
“Many tractor-trailers on the nation’s roads are driven faster than the 75 mph their tires are designed to handle,” the AP exclusive reported.
With its headline and claim, one would believe that truck tires are unsafe; but the story and the facts don’t necessarily back that up.
AP cited increased speed limits in 14 states, mainly west of the Mississippi River, that now have speed limits of 75, 80 and 85 mph as the reason for recent wrecks and blowouts that have “largely escaped the attention of highway officials.”
These states have upped speed limits without consulting the tire industry; tire manufacturers primarily produce commercial truck tires with speed ratings of 75 mph.
The Associated Press discovered this disconnect between highway speed limits and safety standards during the U.S. government’s investigation into truck tire failures.
“Last month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration closed the investigation into blowouts involving certain Michelin tires after determining that truck operators, not the tires, were at fault. An investigator wrote that exceeding the 75 mph rating was the most likely cause in all 16 complaints examined. The blowouts resulted in three crashes but no injuries,” AP reported.
Still, the RMA stated that the option to purchase higher speed-rated commercial truck tires exists.
“Speed rated tires above 75 mph exist today,” Dan Zielinski, spokesman for the RMA, told Tire Review. “Truck owners and operators will make the appropriate purchasing decisions for the equipment they need to optimize the overall performance of their vehicles.”
Tiremakers like Bridgestone agree, stating that they carry a wide range of products with various speed ratings for commercial trucks.
“The majority of Bridgestone’s commercial long-haul tire fitments carry a 75 mph speed rating, although the company does offer a range of ratings between 55 and 82,” Bridgestone Americas told Tire Review in a statement following the AP’s report.
The AP does note in its article that other factors come into tire failures, including road debris, underinflation and heavy loads. However, the AP suggests that manufacturers make tires that can handle higher speeds as one possible solution to the problem.
The AP also cites NHTSA’s solution to the problem, which is to require trucks to operate with speed limiting devices. According to the RMA, 70% of trucks operate with these devices. The American Trucking Associations is also petitioning to require speed-limiting devices on trucks. ATA spokesman Sean McNally provided AP a 2007 survey, which was included in the exclusive. The survey showed that 69% of trucking companies already had such devices on at least some of their rigs, with an average limit of 69 mph.
Tire Review has reached out to ATA for further comments regarding the AP report.
The AP is hesitant that NHTSA’s proposed measure will ever come to pass, saying that it “has been stalled for years in a morass of cost analyses and government reviews.”
NHTSA has also proposed that tire manufacturers list maximum speeds on truck tire sidewalls to make sure drivers know their tires’ limits.
Bridgestone said it supports this measure by NHTSA and has already begun labeling some of its long-haul tires with speed ratings on the sidewall.
“The safety of our customers is of paramount importance to Bridgestone Americas and we continually work to ensure our products and services meet the evolving needs of our customers,” the tiremaker said. “Recent introductions of higher state highway speed limits, as well as the trend of commercial truckers running longer, faster and with increased loads, are significant industry developments that need to be addressed. To that end, Bridgestone has proactively engaged in dialogue with our customers, NHTSA and the RMA to better understand these dynamics and other important issues that impact drivers, fleet managers and owners in the commercial trucking marketplace.”
Moreover, commercial truck tire dealers should be ready to help truck customers face new concerns about speed limits. Reviewing tire capabilities and tire maintenance/inspection with tire manufacturers and customers is a good place to begin.
“Michelin provides commercial customers and fleets very specific and detailed information on the speed rating as it relates to tire pressure, proper wheels and load capacity—all of which are important factors when it comes to tire safety at any speed,” Tony Fouladpour, director of corporate public relations, Michelin North America, said. “Also, Michelin and RMA support the use of load and speed symbols created by the International Standards Organization, an established system used in many parts of the world.”
“Proper tire use and maintenance go hand in hand with achieving the best tire performance,” Bridgestone stated. “Speed ratings are critically important to understand and adhere to, which is why Bridgestone also places a high priority on continuing education for our customers and the end users of our products. Our field service organization regularly educates customers to ensure they understand proper limits of service and appropriate tire use and fitments, as well as applicable loads and the importance of proper care, maintenance and pressure of their tires.”
In addition, understanding the problems with driving commercial trucks at higher speeds is essential.
“One of the main points I think is important commercial trucks are their own breed of vehicles have own performance and handling characteristics,” Zielinski told Tire Review.
Zielinki noted trucks take longer to stop and carry heavier loads and fleets are also more concerned with fuel economy since gas is a big expense for the company and are more likely to travel at lower speeds because of these things.
The AP exclusive did quote Zielinski, saying “Truck tires are generally reliable and are responsible for a relatively low number of accidents.”
Read the exclusive here.