Highways England, the body responsible for England’s motorways and major A roads, is undertaking live technology trials which it says could help reduce CV tyre failures by 75 per cent on the country’s strategic road network, thereby boosting safety and cutting economic costs caused by delays resulting from tyre-related incidents.
Following a pilot installation of the WheelRight drive-over tyre management system at Keele Services on the M6, Highways England has now initiated year-long tests of the technology with fleet operators John Lewis in Milton Keynes and AW Jenkinson in Penrith, as well as a DVSA vehicle check site at Cuerden on the M62.
The pilot tests, which were announced at the CV Show at the end of April, are already demonstrating tangible value for the participants, says Highways England.
The WheelRight system is a drive-over technology which measures tyre pressure and tread depth, as well as weighing the vehicle. An automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) camera reads and records the vehicle registration as drivers approach the sensors, while a second camera photographs the vehicle.
Garry Burns, manager of primary transport at John Lewis Partnership, said: “We’ve had the WheelRight system in place for several months now. The reporting information is very clear and gives us all the information about the state of our tyres.
“It’s going really well and the drivers have bought into it too. In our opinion, it’s an important piece of kit to have. I’d like to see it in more of our sites.”
Tony Pratt, shunter driver at the Milton Keynes depot, added: “From a user’s point of view, it’s hardly there – you just drive over. As a piece of technology, it’s just incredible that something can measure the tyre pressure and tread depth in the time it takes to drive over the kit – and inform the office before you get there.”
National transport business AW Jenkinson also reports positive results.
Ian McGregor, head of fleet management at AW Jenkinson Transport, said: “So far, the system has been very beneficial to us. Having the tyre pressure feature alone is a major plus, because we can catch any issues at source; so trucks aren’t going down the road with faulty tyres –potentially causing a lot of problems.
“The temperature monitoring of the hubs gives us warning if there is a caliper sticking or a wheel bearing on its way out. And tread depth obviously speaks for itself – it’s all-important to a well-run fleet.”
In the first six weeks of operation at the operators’ sites, over 50,000 tyres were checked automatically, without the need to stop any vehicle, or manually touch a tyre or valve.
In one of the locations, the number of tyres with pressures more than 20 per cent below the nominal pressure was cut by 85 per cent. Tyres with pressures exceeding 50 per cent below the nominal pressure were also automatically identified and reported; while tyres with tread depth close to the legal limit were also identified by the system.
Meanwhile, DVSA inspectors at Cuerden had mostly depended on visual checks and manual gauges to measure tread depths and pressures prior to the agency’s adoption of the WheelRight system – tasks which are now fully automated.
Highways England’s incident prevention team leader, John Walford, said: “There has been really positive feedback from the inspectors at Cuerden. The WheelRight technology has provided the opportunity for the inspectors to check more tyres and hence increase the efficiency of the check site.
“This means that DVSA can check more HGVs and take more potentially unsafe vehicles off the strategic road network.”
Highways England highlights the considerable economic impact of tyre blowouts, calculating that the cost of closing a motorway for 15 minutes in order to remove debris can cost up to £30,000. For two lanes of a motorway over a two-hour period following an incident, the figure is more than £130,000.
Fleet operators face a considerable cost burden too, ranging from £500 to £5,000 for an emergency callout – in addition to any losses resulting from failed deliveries, and moreover, the possibility of casualties and even fatalities.
Between 1 April 2015 and 31 August 2016, 58,612 tyre related breakdown incidents were recorded on the strategic road network – of which 34 per cent involved commercial vehicles.
John Catling, chief executive of WheelRight, said: “Highways England should be commended for its active support of our UK-developed technology which is set to revolutionise the way fleets monitor and manage their tyres.
“These three pilots put the UK at the forefront of the transport industry, setting new safety standards that other road management bodies and transport planners across the globe will be keen to adopt.