Safety implications of using poor tyres, how many unsafe vehicles are on the road and benefits of a new, fixed, fine.
Current tyre safety rules rarely enforced
The UK Government should introduce a fixed, mandatory, fine for having worn or defective tyres in a bid to improve road safety, Bridgestone argued – but is this justified? Motorists can, after all, already receive a £2,500 fine per-corner, plus penalty points.
But Bridgestone emphasised that having unsatisfactory tyres is considered a “summary offence”; specifically a CU30. This ensures that motorists have to be prosecuted – which is “not mandatory” - so “very few” cases are enforced by magistrates' courts. The current system enables drivers to get away with it, in other words.
Bridgestone's Managing Director, Robin Shaw, argued: “We think that a fixed charge notice would keep the issue firmly in people’s minds, whilst encouraging everyone to take some simple tyre safety checks which literally take seconds to carry out.” The company added that Ireland recently adopted such a fine, and it totals €80.
Dangers of worn and damaged tyres
For UK motorists to consider it reasonable to introduce a fixed fine, there has to a strong, safety-focussed, argument. There has to be evidence that worn and damaged tyres pose an unreasonable risk to people in cars, their fellow road users and/or pedestrians.
- Bridgestone revealed that the average stopping distance on a new tyre with 8mm of tread is 26 metres, but this rises to 38 metres when the tread is 1.6mm (the legal minimum);
- TyreSafe – a not-for-profit safety organisation – said that a tyre that has cuts, lumps and/or bulges might rapidly deflate;
- TyreSafe explained that it is “critical” to care for tyres as they allow a vehicle to brake, accelerate and corner properly;
- Robin Shaw, Bridgestone's Managing Director, stated: “Because tyres are the only contact points between a car and the road their condition plays a huge factor in overall road safety”;
- TyreSafe stressed that insufficient tread increases the risk of aquaplaning, which is when the tread cannot clear enough water so the vehicle effectively floats and cannot be steered.
- The Road Safety Authority said that “vehicle factors” played a role in 1 of 8 fatal collisions between 2008 and 2012 in Ireland, and defective tyres were the most significant factor.
Scale of the problem
On this basis, we have established that poor tyres pose a safety risk. But to justify introducing a new fine there has to be a reasonable amount of potential offenders. There is, after all, little merit in incurring the cost of passing, enforcing and assessing the impact of a law that only a handful of drivers break.
TyreSafe and Highways England recently conducted a survey. They concluded that more than a quarter of vehicles sported an illegal – and therefore unsafe - tyre at the moment of replacement. That is an alarming sum considering there are 35.3 million cars and light commercial vehicles in use throughout England, Scotland, and Wales.
There are, therefore, enough suspect tyres on the road to tackle the issue. But why are so many motorists failing to care for parts that have such an impact on safety? TyreSafe suggested the problem is a lack of education, rather than laziness or a lack of interest.
The Chairperson, Stuart Jackson, suggested: “TyreSafe does not believe millions of drivers are intentionally putting others at risk. It is more a question of educating motorists to take responsibility for their safety and that of others on the road.”
“As vehicles have become increasingly reliable, owners have become less used to performing what were once considered basic precautionary checks before setting off on a journey. Tyres too are much more technologically advanced, but they do wear and can get damaged so it is down to the driver to regularly check they’re safe”
Mr Jackson added: “The evidence provided by the TyreSafe survey underlines what we already feared – awareness among Britain’s motorists of the importance of tyre safety urgently needs to improve.”
And that tied-in with Bridgestone's call for a new financial penalty for having worn and/or defective tyres. It claimed: “A fixed fine will promote greater awareness amongst motorists of the hazards of driving with tyres that are not in roadworthy condition”. Such a fine should “improve road safety”, it commented.
The Government in Ireland justified introducing a fixed fine on this basis too. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Paschal Donohoe, recently explained: “This new measure is intended to promote greater awareness among motorists of the hazards of driving with tyres that are not in roadworthy condition.”
Proposed law has its merits
We have, therefore, established a series of facts:
- tyre condition has a significant impact on road safety,
- a large number of motorists replace tyres too late,
- Bridgestone, law makers in Ireland and TyreSafe believe a lack of awareness/education ensure tyres stay on the road too long.
On this basis, it seems reasonable to encourage proper care via a fixed fine that can be processed quickly and cheaply. This should, in turn, cut the workload of the magistrates' courts. Any waiting times to consider less open/shut cases might then fall accordingly.
But if the purpose of the fine is to improve safety – rather than raise money – it has to be accompanied by material that helps motorists comply. A simple guide could, for example, be sent alongside road tax reminders, printed on the back of MOT certificates, or supplied by tyre manufacturers at a point of sale.
Enforcement has to be sensible too. Authorities must recognise that faults can be hard to spot – inner wall issues, for example – and some people are not well enough to crawl about on the floor. Only drivers with obvious, no excuse, dangerous faults should be fined.