A recent investigative report by The Associated Press has revealed another point of danger for interstate drivers: a growing number of serious wrecks caused by tire failures on tractor-trailers and other big rigs.
According to the report, many semi drivers regularly drive faster – both legally and illegally – than the 75 mph that their tires are equipped to sustain. The higher speeds cause heavy truck tires to reach such high temperatures that the rubber becomes damaged, increasing the chances for blowouts. As a result, more and more heavy trucks are experiencing tire failures that can lead to catastrophic accidents resulting in serious injuries and even deaths.
Overall, 14 states currently have speed limits of 75 or 80 mph, including Texas, where motorists are allowed to travel at 85 mph in certain parts of the state. While many trucking companies install technology that prevents their trucks from going beyond 75 mph, there are plenty of tractor-trailers in operation today that can and do travel faster.
So how did Texas and other states approve speed limits that are beyond what semi tires can handle? Unfortunately, no one really knows. The AP says it discovered the discrepancy while reviewing an investigation conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on a series of blowouts involving certain types of Michelin tires. The investigation was concluded with the NHTSA ruling that tire damage cause by prolonged excessive speeding was to blame for 16 separate accidents involving blowouts.
According to NHTSA records, heavy trucks and buses were involved in 14,000 fatal crashes in the U.S. between 2009 and 2013 alone. A total of 16,000 people died in those wrecks, which resulted in 223 deaths stemming from 198 crashes caused by tire failures.
The solution to this previously unknown problem is far from being resolved, with government officials, the trucking industry and tire manufacturers passing the blame among themselves. States that have enacted higher speed limits than semi tires can handle largely are pointing to the trucking industry, saying trucking companies shouldn’t allow drivers to travel faster than their tires are capable of handling.
The NHTSA wants all heavy trucks to be equipped with devices that would prevent their fleets from traveling faster than 75 mph. A proposed regulation to mandate lower-speed trucks took five years to complete and is still being considered by government regulators.
Tire manufacturers have a different solution, saying truck drivers shouldn’t driver faster than their tires are rated. Manufacturers are being pressured to build heavy truck tires that are capable of withstanding speeds beyond 75 mph like the majority of tires used on lighter vehicles. However, those same manufacturers have yet to be convinced that producing higher-speed tires will be worth the expense since there are no laws in place requiring trucking companies to use them.
All this finger-pointing is accomplishing nothing in terms of protecting drivers on the nation’s highways today. Until the status quo is remedied, either by laws requiring better tires, slower speeds for tractor-trailers or high-speed tires, everyone should be especially careful when they see a big rig moving along at 75 mph or faster.