Stricter tyre tread regulations could save lives

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It’s startling to comprehend that a mere 6.4mm can be the difference between life and death, but those are odds most South Africans motorists are exposed to every time they use their cars.

The tread depth on a set of brand new tyres is 8mm. The lowest permissible tread depth for used tyres in Europe is 1.6mm. However, in South Africa the shocking reality is that a lot of vehicle owners are driving with tyre treads that are far below what we as the South African Tyre Manufacturing Conference recommend, namely 1.6mm. This was the inspiration behind a safety conference we hosted at the Gerotek Testing Facilities. The core focus was to demonstrate the detrimental impact of tyres with insufficient tread on them in the context of our roads and driving conditions.

Our stakeholders got to experience first-hand through track modules overseen by expert driving instructors how a vehicle with proper tyres with an 8mm tread depth reacts in both dry and wet conditions as opposed to tyres with a 1.6mm tread. The results were a reverberating confirmation of exactly why vehicle tyres are safety critical. This outcome echoes and parallels our advocating for the government to legislate 1.6mm as the legal and lowest tread depth in line with European and American standards.

In simple terms the treads on a tyre play two crucial roles. Firstly treads provide added friction between the road and surface when braking. If the tyres are worn there will not be enough friction and the tyre will slide over the road surface, failing to stop the vehicle. Secondly tyre tread patterns allow water to be expelled from beneath the tyre to prevent hydroplaning or skidding.

Major cause of road fatalities
Currently South African law according to the National Road Traffic Act stipulates that tyres not fitted with a tread wear indicator must have at least a 1mm tread depth. Anything below that figure warrants hefty fines and points rebated on licences – once the points system is implemented.

However, based our demonstrations it is unanimously apparent that 1mm is not sufficient if we are going to institute a certain degree of safety on our roads. Of the 4,500 deaths which occurred on our roads last year based on the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) annual report, 63.2% of those can be attributed to vehicle factors relating to tyre failure. Perhaps what could be considered a significant variable which is unique to the South African context our taxi industry.

A study by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research revealed that an estimated 20% of accidents involving minibuses have tyre failure as a contributing factor. In the UK where a 1.6mm tread depth is the standard only 1,732 road fatalities were recorded for the year 2015. Off course things are not that black and white as there are many other variables to consider when determining these statistics. These include the amount of cars per kilometre and general road conditions. However, the stark truth simply cannot be concealed – unsafe tyres on our roads permit over 60% of deaths on our roads.

The SATMC’s continued engagement with government must be perceived as a strategic alignment to the United Nations (UN) Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020, the country’s commitment to reducing fatalities on our roads by 50% by the year 2020.

This starts with a true reflection as we wind down from the festive season, a period where our roads are at their busiest, not just with passenger vehicles but also commercial vehicles alike. In the festive season of 2015 a 1% decline in road fatalities was recorded. This translated to 1,368 deaths on our roads – a figure far too high to be tolerated. Imagine how many lives could be saved annually if certain stringencies were in place.

Yes, it does not only boil down to tyres alone as there are other variables to consider, but safety criticalness in its holistic perception must be embraced and valued if the changes needed are to be our reality. And if this commitment is truly one which is entrenched in international trends then government’s implementation of a 1.6mm tread depth is the only logical evolution.

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