Tire Inflation & Treads: Their Role in Preventing Accidents
Everybody wants to avoid car accidents, as one car crash can cause you to be seriously hurt (or worse), rack up expensive medical bills, sustain damage your car, get into a messy insurance dispute, and you may have to miss work.
Driving carefully is not the only preventive measure that you can take to avoid a car accident. Keeping up with car maintenance and making sure that all parts of your car are in good working order also has an impact on your safety on the road. To this end, one of the most important things you can do to decrease your risk of getting into an accident is to look after your tires.
To provide an idea of how critical the health of your tires are to your own safety, consider that the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (the “NHTSA”) found that in 9% of car crashes that occurred nationally between 2005-2007, one or more of the cars in the crash experienced tire issues, and 5% of cars experienced tire issues immediately before a crash. Moreover, in car crashes that were caused by tire issues, 50% were single-vehicle crashes, meaning that without healthy tires, you are at risk of an accident even beyond the behavior of other drivers on the road. Such tire-related problems that can cause crashes include, but are not limited to, under-inflation of tires and inadequate tread depth.
The same NHTSA study found that for vehicles driving on tires that were under-inflated by more than 25% of the recommended pressure, tire issues are 3 times more likely to be a critical factor that could have caused or contributed to the crash. Even tires that were under-inflated but did not hit the 25% mark can create issues. Namely, these tires are at a higher risk of overheating, which leads to difficulty steering (and, where a car crash is imminent, the ability to avoid a collision). The reason adequate tire inflation is so important to preventing car crashes is that this ensures that the cars’ weight is evenly spread across the tires and the tire treads, which allow the driver the ability to make turns (even fast ones) and remain in control.
As such, maintaining adequate tire pressure is something every driver can do to help prevent an accident. The government mandated the installation of tire pressure monitoring systems on every car starting in 2008, but if your car is an older model, buying a separate tire gauge is very inexpensive. If you are checking your tire pressure manually, you should do so once a month to ensure your tires are not underinflated. Be sure to check each tire. Note that your tires will lose more pressure in hotter conditions, so you may want to check your tire pressure more often if it is summer or you live in a hot climate.
Similar to tire inflation, tread depth is another very important component of keeping your car healthy. Tire depth refers to the deepness of the treads (or grooves) that are in your tires. The purpose of the treads is to provide traction, or “stickiness” with the road, and to siphon away water from the rest of the tire when the roads are wet, which prevents hydroplaning. As such, treads greatly enhance the driver’s ability to control the vehicle, as without traction, either because your treads are too worn out and/or you are hydroplaning, your car cannot respond to the steering wheel or brakes effectively.
In the United States, tread depth is measured as in 32nds of an inch, and any tread depth under 4/32” puts you at a higher risk of a car accident. The NHTSA study found that having tire depth of less than 4/32” put drivers at a higher risk of an accident. Specifically, of the vehicles studied that were in car crashes, 26% that experienced tire problems just before the crash had a tread depth of 2/32” or under; and 8% of cars that experienced tire problems just before the crash had a tread depth of between 3/32” and 4/32”. In comparison, note that the average set of new tires have tread depths of between 10/32” and 11/32”.
Many cars have tire tread depth gauges – make sure to check these and get your tires replaced when indicated. Regardless, you should regularly check your tire treads for uneven wear, or to note where the tread wear bars are visible, or there is visible damage to the treads. You can manually check the depth of your treads easily with a quarter: place a quarter in the tread with Washington’s head upside down. If Washington’s head is covered by the tread, that means your tire still has more than 4/32” of tread depth. You should check each of your car’s tires on a regular basis.