For Gatlin's Sake: Momentum Builds for National Tread Depth Regs, But Much More to Do - Tire Review Magazine

For Gatlin’s Sake: Momentum Builds for National Tread Depth Regs, But Much More to Do

A full year has gone by since we threw our support behind a national 4/32nds tread depth law (5/32nds for Class 3-8 trucks), and urged tire dealers to press their state legislators and Congresspeople to act. And I am pleased to report that things are moving. 


The idea gained additional steam last year, especially after separate reports by The Tire Rack and Consumer Reports (yes, those people) supported the change. Suddenly 4/32nds was chic. In fact, The Rack suggested replacing the old school “penny test” with the more meaningful quarter test.

The Rack’s testing showed that a late-model pickup truck riding on tires with 2/32nds tread depth averaged 499.5 feet to stop from 70 miles per hour on wet pavement – nearly a tenth of a mile. But on 4/32nds treads, that same truck stopped nearly 122 feet sooner.


“The penny test was an indirect result of tire warranties,” said John Rastetter, Tire Rack’s director of tire information. “It is to that depth (2/32-inch) that most warranties remain valid, encouraging drivers to drive longer on tires that don’t provide enough wet-weather traction.”


Dealer after dealer have told me that they are selling their customers on 4/32nds. State groups have asked me for research and have talked to their legislators. TIA, I understand, is considering the issue. Even some tiremakers are offering silent support, suggesting that their dealers are “in the best position to educate consumers on the benefits.”


We are still a long way from success, so I want to give you some more reasons to take up the charge.


For example, do you want an easy way to demonstrate the difference?  


THE TYPE IN THIS SENTENCE IS ABOUT 2/32NDS OF AN INCH HIGH. IMAGINE DRIVING ON WET STREETS WITH JUST THIS MUCH TREAD.


AND THIS IS ABOUT 4/32NDS HIGH, THE DEPTH EXPERTS SAY WOULD REDUCE ACCIDENTS, INJURIES, DEATHS AND LAWSUITS. REMARKABLE DIFFERENCE, EH?


Maybe putting some faces to this drive will help.


• “Insufficient tread” on wet roads was blamed for the November 2006 crash that claimed Jenny Sue Maurer, 22, of Bloomington, Ill. Young Jenny lost control of her car, struck a concrete median and careened into the path of an oncoming tractor-trailer.


• Nearly bald tires were blamed for the March 2007 death of 10-year-old Gatlin Brown of Robbinsville, N.C. Mom lost control of her 1999 Grand Am on rain-soaked streets, right into the path of an oncoming propane truck. Fortunately, Gatlin’s 18-month-old brother survived.


• Grottoes, Va., resident Travis Williamson, 17, died in October 2007 after hitting a tree on a rainy night. His 1994 Thunderbird’s tires were well past worn, police said.


 Are deeper tread limits the only answer? No, not by a long shot. But the testing evidence I have shared with you clearly shows that deeper treads will save lives. Lots of lives.


Changing to a universal 4/32nds tread depth won’t happen without government involvement (new laws in all 50 states and D.C., or a national law) and government support (mandated annual state inspections and random checks). Those things won’t happen unless there is some serious lobbying – by the RMA and TIA and dealers.


Yeah, I know our politicians have a lot on their hands right now (it’s still the economy, stupid), but 2008 is a major election year – a presidential election year, so it’s pretty big – making it a good time to put the full-court press on those constantly begging for your vote.


We need to attack this issue on a national scale because a single, unified national law would be best. But you also need to push at the state level. Your customers (read: voters) deserve such a law, and if it takes 50 separate state-level efforts, then so be it. 


Canadian dealers, get on your MPs, local and provincial. Canada has a national 2/32nds law in place, so you’re at least halfway there (literally). Now all you need is another 2/32nds (3/32nds for trucks) and a national enforcement system.


30,521 people died in car and light truck accidents in 2006 in the U.S. How many of those are directly attributable to insufficient tread (by any measure) is anyone’s guess. Let’s say it was just 1% (an unbelievably low percentage, I’d suggest). That’s 305 people, many of them innocents like Gatlin.


We have posted on tirereview.com all of the test data and information we have outlining the benefits of 4/32nds. Send it – and this column – to your lawmakers.


The body of evidence and scientific data screams for attention. For Gatlin’s sake, let’s get it done.


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