The Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) has said its enforcement teams may now pursue follow-up investigations of HGV, trailer and PSV operators found to be using tyres that are over ten years old, with the possibility of regulatory action.
New guidance from the agency, which came into force on 23 November, stops short of placing a blanket ban on tyres of a specific age.
But it states that if an operator cannot provide an adequate explanation for using such tyres, or their tyre management systems are found to be not up to scratch, they may be referred to the traffic commissioner for potential further action.
The DVSA’s Guide to Maintaining Roadworthiness has been updated accordingly – as has the guide to the categorisation of vehicle defects, which is used by DVSA staff to help inform the action they should take when defects are found during roadside inspections and annual tests.
The new procedure builds on previous advice released by the Department for Transport (DfT) for PSV operators following a coach crash in 2013, advising that tyres reaching the age of 10 years should not be used on a steering axle, with strict conditions stipulated where used at all.
Since then, DVSA staff have routinely checked tyre age every year, as well as in roadside and fleet inspections; and the 2013 guidance is now being reinforced and extended to the heavy goods sector.
Since the initial announcement in November, DVSA has clarified some points around the new policy following queries from fleet operators.
In a blog published on the government website, DVSA enforcement policy manager Dave Wood wrote: “The first thing to clear up is that our guidance doesn’t ban tyres of a specific age. It only says that operators should have an adequate tyre management system in place and consider the risks associated with the use of older tyres.
“The main factors to consider are speed, axle weight, journey distance, and the position of the tyre on the vehicle. These all influence how much stress the tyre is exposed to and the effect tyre failure may have on control of the vehicle.”
However, he emphasised: “You should not use older tyres on the steering axle of a motor vehicle. If you choose to do this, you must thoroughly assess the risks.
“Ultimately, you are responsible for the safe operation of your vehicle.”
The DfT is currently researching the effect of age on tyre integrity, but the new advice was issued “as a precaution” while this is underway. A study announced by the DfT earlier this year into the safety of ageing tyres is said to be the first such publicly-funded research in the UK; and a report on this is due in the spring.
“Once the results have been received and reviewed, we may reconsider or refine our approach to older tyres,” said Dave Wood.
He further clarified: “If we find an operator with a tyre more than 10 years old, we’ll follow up to remind them of the guidance. We’ll also ask for assurance that they’ve done a risk assessment for their vehicle, taking how it’s used into account.
“We won’t take any further action if the operator shows they’re maintaining their vehicles well and have controls to reduce the risk of tyre failure.
“If they can’t show us that they’re managing their tyres and reducing risk, we would consider referring them to the traffic commissioner.”
The Guide to Maintaining Roadworthiness states that a “robust tyre management system” is “essential for any professional vehicle operator,” and that it should ensure tyres in service are appropriate to the vehicle and operating conditions.
It should also ensure: “that tyre age is monitored and that tyres aged more than 10 years old should not be used except on a rear axle as part of a twin wheel arrangement.
“Where tyres more than 10 years old are used, their age should be recorded and a specific risk assessment, that considers the speed and loading conditions that the vehicle will operate under (for example, operating only in urban areas) is done.”
In his blog, Dave Wood added: “Whether it’s safe to use older tyres on a three axle-trailer as part of a single-wheel fitment depends on how you’re using trailer and managing the tyres.
“Having three axles and six wheels does reduce the risk of trailer instability and loss of control if a single tyre fails. But using older tyres at high speed and fully loaded potentially increases the risk of tyre failure.
“In short, it again depends on how you’re using the tyres. That means your tyre management risk assessment should consider how you use the trailer and how often you inspect your tyres.
“Trailers used at slower speed or lower weight will reduce the risk. So you can still use old tyres on a single wheel fitment as long as you have good tyre management systems in place.”
The Guide also emphasises the importance of maintaining and monitoring tyre pressures, and examining tyres “regularly and closely” for damage and wear, with mechanisms in place to address any identified issues.
A fleet’s tyre management system should also ensure that relevant staff are properly trained and empowered to act with sufficient authority; that relevant technicians are properly qualified; that any on-site tyres are properly stored; and that drivers are also trained and equipped to recognise and report tyre issues.
For further advice, the DVSA Guide also directs operators to the Freight Transport Association (FTA) website, where they can find the separate Guide to Tyre Management on Heavy Vehicles, compiled by the Tyre Industry Federation with support from DfT, FTA, Road Haulage Association (RHA) and Institute of Road
FTA’s head of engineering and vehicle standards policy, Phil Lloyd, advised: “Although commercial drivers are responsible for ensuring they check the general condition of their tyres daily, a more in-depth inspection should be undertaken by vehicle engineers or tyre inspectors.
“FTA advises all drivers to request an age evaluation as part of their vehicle check. Older tyres may look sound at first glance, but on closer inspection, a small crack or perishing of the rubber compound may be evident – the effects of which may compromise both the safety of the tyre and the vehicle.”
RHA technical director Paul Allegra added: “Old tyres can let you down in more ways than you think.
“At first glance the tyres may look okay and pose no risk. But remember, the older the tyre the greater the risk of sidewall failures and tread separation occurring, placing you, your employees and others at risk.”