Old tyres get official cold shoulder

Latest moves toughen government's stance but still fall short of a complete ban

Truck and bus operators in the UK are being warned more strongly than ever against using tyres more than ten years old. But the latest government action is unlikely to satisfy campaigners, who have been calling for a complete ban on such tyres.

In his written statement to Parliament, transport minister Jesse Norman said that the latest version of the Guide to Maintaining Roadworthiness published by the Department for Transport’s Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) includes, for the first time, “guidance that tyres over ten years old should not be used on heavy vehicles except in specific, limited circumstances.”

He also announced that unspecified “additional funds” were being made available for a research project on the effects of tyre ageing commissioned by the government early this year.

The government has been under fire on this subject for more than six years since the danger posed by ageing bus and coach tyres was highlighted horrifically by a fatal Surrey coach crash on the A3 trunk road near Hindhead and subsequent inquest and coroner’s report.

In March, following a welter of criticism of repeated Tory blocks on proposed tyre-age legislation, Norman commissioned Berkshire-based TRL (formerly the Transport Research Laboratory) to carry out a £250,000, twelve-month research project designed to “provide a fuller picture on the safety of tyres as they get older.”

Not yet enough, say campaigners

Frances Molloy was unimpressed, describing the move on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme as a government delaying tactic which “doesn’t go far enough”.

Molloy is the mother of Michael, the 18-year-old coach passenger who was killed in the 2012 A3 crash, together with 23-year-old Kerry Ogden and the 63-year-old driver Colin Daulby. The inquest in 2013 heard evidence from a distinguished accident investigator that the sole cause of the 2012 crash was a tyre blowout on the steering axle. The tyre was 19.5 years old, 2.5 years older than the coach itself.

Jesse Norman met Molloy last summer, shortly after he became transport minister. Since then Molloy’s local Member of Parliament, Labour’s Maria Eagle, introduced a bill that would have made it unlawful for tyres over ten years old to be used on buses and coaches.

The bill’s passage through the House of Commons was blocked by Conservatives. An earlier bill put forward by Steve Rotheram, now mayor of Liverpool City Region, had suffered a similar fate.

Truck operator associations welcome latest moves

The latest government moves, including the update to the DVSA’s roadworthiness guide, have been welcomed by two leading truck operator associations, the Freight Transport Association (FTA) and Road Haulage Association (RHA).

“FTA advises all drivers to request an age evaluation as part of their vehicle check,” says the association’s head of engineering and vehicle standards policy, Phil Lloyd.

“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.”

Paul Allegra is RHA technical director. “Old tyres can let you down in more ways than you think,” he says.

“At first glance the tyres may look OK 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.”

Transport minister Jesse Norman warns operators that any failure to provide an “adequate explanation” for using old tyres may be referred by the DVSA to traffic commissioners, who have the power to suspend or revoke operator licences.

“Tyre safety is vital and DVSA has always taken strong action to protect the public from unsafe tyres of all ages,” says DVSA chief executive Gareth Llewellyn. “By changing our approach, we’re sending the message that no one should use tyres more than ten years old.”

Tim Blakemore
Tim Blakemore
Tim Blakemore is an award-winning automotive journalist and the former editor of our sister title, Commercial Vehicle Engineer magazine. He is also the UK representative on the panel of judges for the biennial, pan-European Trailer Innovation Award scheme.