Truck Tire Safety

January 15th, 2016 by Attorney Julie Butcher

Tires are where the rubber hits the road, and when those tires are on an 80,000-pound semi-truck driving next to you on the highway, you hope they’re in good shape. If not, a tire failure could lead to loss of control of a big rig, or the debris from the tire could hit your vehicle causing you to lose control of it.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) studied crashes of about 120,000 large trucks from 2001 to 2003 to determine what caused these accidents. The accidents studied caused at least one death or serious injury.

  • The report found that drivers caused 87% of the accidents, while problems with vehicles caused 10%.
  • The report listed 19 factors contributing to the accidents.
  • Tire problems were ranked at number 11, causing an estimated 6% of the accidents (impacting about 8,000 trucks), more than drivers following too close or using drugs or alcohol.
  • The leading factor was brake problems, at 29%.

A recent recall involving Peterbilt semi-trucks brought up the issue of tire safety, though the problem may be either the truck or the tires, depending on how you look at it. The company is recalling more than 2,000 semis because they can travel faster than what their Michelin tires are rated to safely handle.

In December, Peterbilt announced the recall of 2009 through 2016 model tractors because they can go faster than 75 mph, while the maximum safe speed for their tires is 65 mph. The trucks in question are mainly used to transport automobiles. The company warns that if the truck is going too fast, a tire failure may occur on the front or steer axle and could cause a crash. The solution will not be replacing the tires but reprogramming the trucks’ computers to prevent them from going faster than 65 mph.

Peterbilt stated that auto haulers are known to push the limits of front-axle loads, so it decided the speed discrepancy is a safety defect and the trucks should be recalled. NHTSA has asked other truck manufacturers whose trucks have similar risks to take action to address the issue. There is no formal agency investigation, and it hasn’t requested further recalls due to these potential tire problems. Michelin states its tires are safe when used as designed.

NHTSA started investigating the Michelin tires at issue in 2014. It found 16 complaints, three accidents and two police crash reports concerning possible tire failures. Investigators wrapped up the probe last year after deciding the failures were caused by a road hazard, the use of the wrong tire rim, or a combination of violating tire load limits, low air pressure or traveling at higher speeds than the tires can safely handle. Volvo Trucks issued a similar recall involving 115 trucks during the investigation.

Complicating the issue is that several states allow semis to travel up to 75 mph (the speed limit for heavy trucks on some sections of highways in Kentucky is 70 mph) which is the maximum speed rating for most truck tires. Tire manufacturers warn that tires can fail if they exceed the speed rating for a long period of time.

If you have been injured in an accident involving a commercial truck, contact our office so we can talk about the accident, how the law may be applied and your options for obtaining compensation for your injuries.