The Department for Transport (DfT) has opened a promised consultation into its plans to outlaw the use of tyres aged 10 years and older on trucks, trailers, buses, coaches and minibuses, citing serious road safety concerns.
The proposals, which are laid out in a consultation document published last month, also advocate banning retreaded tyres of any age on steered axles.
“Subject to the outcome of the consultation, this will make it an offence to use or operate a vehicle on a road in Great Britain where a tyre fitted to the vehicle exceeds an age of 10 years, or where a retreaded tyre fitted to a non-steered axle exceeds 10 years from its date of retreading, as specified on the tyre wall,” said the DfT.
“It will also be an offence, subject to the outcome of the consultation, to fit retreaded tyres of any age to steered axles of HGVs, buses, coaches and minibuses. The proposals include measures requiring the date of manufacture marking to be visible for the purposes of inspection, and to be maintained and not tampered with.”
The consultation, which runs for ten weeks and closes on 1 September, also seeks views on whether such a ban should be extended to taxis and private hire vehicles.
If the government’s proposed measures are supported, legislation could be introduced later this year, with new rules potentially in force by 2020.
The issue of aging tyres has been in the spotlight following a concerted campaign by Frances Molloy, whose son Michael died in a coach crash in 2012 following the blowout of a 19-year-old tyre.
Bus operators have long been advised by the Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) not to use older tyres at the front of their vehicles, and guidance on the topic was recently reinforced and extended to apply to HGVs – with the possibility of referral to the traffic commissioners if operators cannot provide an adequate explanation or demonstrate that their tyre management systems are robust.
DfT concedes that non-compliance with tyre age advice has been low in the PSV sector; the DVSA has found that only 0.06 per cent of buses and coaches inspected breached its guidance. But the government is concerned that such cases could nonetheless have devastating impacts in individual incidents.
Michael Ellis, the road safety minister, said: “Our priority is keeping people safe on our roads, and we are taking action to reduce the number of people killed or injured.
“There is increasing evidence that age affects the safety of tyres, which is why I think older tyres should not be used on large vehicles.
“I would like to thank Frances Molloy and the Tyred campaign for their work raising this important issue – the changes we are consulting on could save lives.”
In his foreword to the consultation document, Mr Ellis outlined another case pertinent to the proposals, this time involving an HGV.
“In September 2017, a truck travelling on the M5 suffered a tyre blow-out, crossed the central reservation and collided with oncoming traffic. Five lives were lost in the incident.
“The coroner concluded at the inquest, held in February 2019,that the crash was a result of the tyre failure, noting that the tyre was 18 years old and had suffered structural deterioration due to its age. In both collisions, the age of the tyres fitted to the steered axles was considered to have contributed to their failure.”
To develop its understanding of the issue, DfT commissioned research by TRL to explore the link between age and tyre integrity, a report from which has been published alongside the consultation paper.
While not statistically conclusive, the department says that the results suggest that “corrosion is more likely to be found in older tyres,” and also highlight “the ability of moisture to penetrate through cuts in the tread area into the structure of the tyre”.
Said DfT: “The research also implies a change in the hardness of the rubber, both in the tread area and the sidewall for older tyres. This hardness can lead to cracking.
“This research has supplemented our emerging evidence base on this subject and when combined with expert testimony, DVSA data and current roadworthiness guidance, we have concluded that a ban on tyres of 10 years or older is a necessary measure to improve road safety.”
On the issue of retreads, the DfT said it had carefully considered the options.
“Retreaded tyres are a key element of the heavy-duty vehicle tyre market (around 30 per cent), providing a cost-effective product to operators, a sustainable solution to recycling worn tyres and employment at UK manufacturing sites,” said the consultation paper.
“All retreaded tyres supplied in the UK must comply with UNECE Regulations… and be tested according to the same load and speed criteria as those used for new tyres.
“The date of manufacture is imprinted on all first life tyres as part of the manufacturing process and so it is straightforward to determine the age of a tyre… During the retreading process, a new date is imprinted on the tyre to signify when the retreading was completed…
“However, there is currently no legal requirement for a retreaded tyre to also display the date of its original manufacture.
“If we were to propose legislation to ban all tyres 10 years or older, without any consideration of retreaded tyres, we would effectively be prohibiting the use of retreaded tyres of any age, since operators would not, under current regulations, be able to guarantee that every element of a retreaded tyre was below 10 years old.
“The key issue affecting retreaded tyres is whether they provide the same level of safety as an original (first life) tyre. We do not have any evidence to confirm or dispute this but in the UK, we rely upon the legal obligation that only retreaded tyres manufactured in accordance with UNECE Regulations 108 &109 can be placed on the market.
“Manufacturers have to ensure that the tyre carcass is suitable to be retreaded and have various techniques to ensure this is the case before remanufacturing.
“The department is not aware of any evidence to suggest that there are systematic weaknesses in the UNECE regulatory requirements.
“However, as both of the fatal collisions where HM Coroner referenced the age of the tyre as a contributing factor involved tyre failure on the steered axle of the vehicle, we are currently proposing restricting the use of retreaded tyres of any age from the steered axles, subject to the outcome of this consultation.”
DfT pointed out that this proposal was consistent with best practice guidance from some members of the UK tyre industry – citing Michelin’s website which advises that: “it is generally accepted in the UK and Ireland that retreaded tyres should not be fitted to front steer axles” and that: “Michelin does not recommend fitting retreaded tyres on the front steer axle.”
DfT added that the use of retreaded tyres on axles other than those used to steer the vehicle provides “economic and operational flexibility to vehicle operators” as well as environmental benefits.
James Firth, head of road freight regulation at the Freight Transport Association (FTA), said: “Given the amount of mileage covered by a typical commercial driver, FTA finds it unlikely that many of our members have tyres that are 10 years old. FTA is committed to ensuring the highest safety standards are met across the logistics industry, and as such, is happy to work with the DfT on this consultation.
“If tyres are undertaking particularly low mileage, there may be a case for exemption, but this needs to be considered further.”
He added that commercial vans ought to be included within the scope of the consultation.
“With more than 4.2 million of these vehicles on our roads, van operators must be held against the same compliance and safety standards as any other commercial vehicle,” he said.
“We want to see a strong enforcement effort against all vehicles which may compromise road safety, including caravans and trailers.”
Meanwhile, the Road Haulage Association said it was: “concerned that the focus on tyre age should not detract from the much more serious issue of ensuring that tyres are always kept in good condition.”
Operators wishing to contribute to the consultation can fill in an online response form here.