Limits of Semi-Truck Tires at High Speeds

November 1, 2017

An increase in truck tire blow-out accidents and increasing fatalities led the National Highway Traffic Safety Commission (NHTSA) to investigate the quality of tires. The agency discovered glaring coincidences that emphasized the danger of speeding trucks and tires that are made more for handling loads than accommodating speed.

The trucking industry shows willingness in controlling driver speed and has in fact, supported lower speed limits for trucks. However, with their size, blindspots, and maneuverability limitations, trucks leave other drivers vulnerable. Here is the role that tires play in these safety issues.

Truck tires were initially designed for speeds up to 75 mph and that continues today. At the time this standard started, most speed limits in the nation hovered between 65 and 70 mph so that was considered an acceptable buffer for maintaining safety. The lower speed limits made it less likely that trucks would travel faster than 75 mph.  

However, this buffer does not offer the same comfort it did in the past. Many states have higher speed limits. There are parts of Texas where the speed limit is as high as 85. Utah, Wyoming, and Washington all have speed limits of 75 mph or higher. As the speed limits increased, truck drivers found it acceptable to travel faster. A common sentiment is that these states raised the speed limits without consulting the tire industry and it does not occur to drivers to consider the limitations of their vehicles when setting a highway speed.

As the speed limits increased, so did blow outs. Deaths from blow-outs rose steadily too.  In 2009, 40 people died in tire-related truck-car crashes. That increased to 52 in 2013, which is the latest year statistics are available.

When the NHTSA investigated these blow-out accidents, they traced many of them to a particular brand of Michelin tires. One company, Extreme Transportation Corp., sued Michelin after those tire failures caused $20,000 to $30,000 damages to its rigs. It was apparent at least some careless design was involved in these accidents.

But generally, the report revealed that speeds in excess of 75 mph were the most likely cause of accidents and fatalities. There were no blow-out accidents that did not also involve speed so the causes were nearly indistinguishable. This turned the focus to finding ways to slow trucks down, no matter what types of tires were installed on them.

It can be difficult to determine the causes of blow-outs. Tire quality is certainly a factor but also under-inflation, road debris, speeding, and overloading. There is disconnect too. States have the authority to raise speed limits but the NHTSA handles regulations affecting tires. It is certainly true that speed limits increased faster than tire standards evolved.   

Raising standards worked with passengers vehicles. In the early 1990’s, a series of similar failures happened with Firestone tires on Ford Explorers. Now, basic car tires are rated up to 112 mph. This is in extreme excess of any speed limit but it provides a safety buffer similar to the one intended with trucks.

Some companies answered the call to recreate this safety buffer and manufacture tires that can handle higher speeds. There is a model rated for 81 mph that costs the same as the lower-rated 75 mph model. But there is barely any demand for them because companies started self-regulating for their own interests.

For example, trucking companies add devices to their fleet vehicles that prevent trucks from accelerating over 75 mph. There has been a push for years to make these mandatory but the NHTSA never implemented it. Trucking associations frequently advocate for lower speed limits for trucks too, often opposing any speed limit that allows travel faster than 65 mph.

Expert sources in the trucking industry discuss tire inflation too. Since tires should be inflated to the load, not for speed, it is believed that many drivers do not take precautions to assure the tires can handle the load. This may also contribute to blow-outs and accidents, so education efforts seek to reduce these incidents.

With driver error, speed, and tire shortcomings contributing to accidents, it is no wonder many passenger car drivers feel uneasy sharing the road with trucks.

The mere thought of a truck accident is terrifying. Your car is most likely totaled and drivers and passengers frequently sustain serious injuries. These large unwieldy beasts are necessary for interstate commerce but there are also so many things that can go wrong--including tires.

That is why if you are injured in a truck accident, you need to act quickly and hire skilled truck accident lawyer. CPM Injury Law, P.C. offers the background needed to help you pursue your claim successfully. Contact us today to schedule an appointment. Se habla Español.

CPM Injury Law, P.C. provides individuals injured through someone else’s negligence personally tailored legal services. Learn about your legal rights and resources below.Call (512) 371-6101 for a free consultation.