According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration 33,000 accidents happen each year because of tires. In 2019, there were 612 total motor vehicle traffic fatalities in tire related crashes.
In 2000, the Ford Motor Company issued recalls of 14.4 million tires in the U.S. as a result of failures that caused 271 deaths and 800 injuries. The tires involved in these accidents were Firestone tires. All of the failures involved tread separation, where the tire tread peeled off from the body of the tire.
Tread separation due to the interaction of steel and rubber tire elements has been a challenge in radial tire design since their development in 1946. Tread separation can occur on any wheel of the vehicle and on all makes and models of radial tires.
The Ford/Firestone tire recall led Congress to enact the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation Act or TREAD in 2000. Among other mandates, TREAD required new vehicles manufactured after 2007 to have a tire pressure monitoring system to warn a driver when a tire is significantly under inflated.
There are several known pre-crash conditions of tire related crashes:
- Aged Tires
- Defective/recalled tires
- Worn tires, low-tread depth
- Inappropriate tire pressure (low or high)
- Inappropriate tread depth
- Inappropriate tire size
- Inappropriate load capacity
Like any other rubber product, tires have a limited service-life. Tires undergo an aging process even when they are not in use. The rubber parts become less elastic, the steel webbing inside the tire corrodes and the rubber mixture of which the tread is formed hardens. Recent standards require that tires six years or older may not be installed on a vehicle and tires that are ten years old should be taken out of service.
Low tire pressure or underinflation is a leading cause of tire blowout. Insufficient air pressure causes a tire to sag, flexing beyond the shape at which it can properly function to support a vehicle’s load. The tire will then overhead and its rubber’s bond with the reinforcing layers will soften, weaken and fail.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has issued regulations that are specific to the tires on large trucks. See Section 393.75. This section sets standards for truck tire groove pattern depth, tread depth and load carrying capacity. It also regulates tire inflation pressure.
Tire manufacturers can be held liable for defective tires that cause accidents, deaths and injuries. These cases require the use of top tire experts in the industry to inspect the defective tire and provide their opinion that the defective tire caused the crash.