Tyres and wheels: Battling inflation

By: Rob McKay

HVIA experts discuss COR and tyre maintenance

Tyres and wheels: Battling inflation
It is important for all operators to have in place a set of procedures to ensure that wheels and tyres are in good condition, and correctly inflated for the load.


The National Truck Accident Research Centre’s (NTARC) latest crash data report makes a point of highlighting how few major accidents involving trucks are attributable to maintenance issues.

The 2017 Major Accident Investigation Report says that just 3.5 per cent of the major loss claims used to collate the report are shown to be mechanically related, and of those, half are due to tyre blow-outs or similar.

By contrast the report attributes the greatest number of major crashes to inappropriate speed.

These timely observations inform a discussion surrounding new chain of responsibility(COR) provisions in the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) section 26, which deals with the safety duties of parties in the chain.

If that all sounds a bit heavy to digest right now, it is worth persisting, given the threat of massive fines and/or jail time that it imposes.

Heavy Vehicle Industry Australia (HVIA) Policy and Government Relations Manager Greg Forbes explained the changes.

"Rather than the more passive approach after an incident occurs, of requiring a ‘reasonable steps’defence, section 26C places a responsibility on entities that are part of the chain to ensure, ‘so far as is reasonably practical’, the safety of the party’s transport activities," Forbes says.

"It also requires the entity public to eliminate risks and, to the extent that is not reasonably practical to eliminate public risks, tominimise public risks."

Under section 26D, the individual executive of an entity is the focus.

An executive involved in a transport activity must exercise due diligenceto ensure that the entity complies with the duty.

The law goes on to state that due diligenceincludes "taking reasonable steps" to understand the hazards and risks.

That includes eliminating or minimising those risks by:

• gaining an understanding of the risks

• having and using appropriate resources

• having and implementing processes

• receiving, considering and responding in a timely way to information about those hazards and risks.

An executive can be convicted of an offence even if the company, the legal entity, has not been proceeded against for, or convicted of, an offence relating to the duty.

Tyres inflation and maintenance            

While the Major Accident Investigation Report does not single maintenance out as one of the major risks, it is nonetheless an identified public risk and needs to be eliminated or at least minimised.

While the casual observer might assume that the NTARC accident report indicates that tyres are a secondary issue, and that tyre inflation is an after-thought, when you look more closely the situation is more complicated.

 Paul Caus
Paul Caus

The reality is that tyres play an important role in every aspect of a truck or trailer’s performance, as HVIA chief technical officer Paul Caus explains.

"The rubber hitting the road is the single most powerful, and easiest to manage, variable to any combination’s performance," Caus says.

"When talking about vehicle safety and performance, references to tyres and wheels are often given short shrift.

"When analysing a combination people just assume that every wheel is equipped with the optimum tyre, with tread in optimum condition, inflated to the optimum pressure for the load."

For example, an engineer’s report examining brake performance will suggest that these factors are all assumed to be "as per manufacturer’s specifications", so the report can move on to addressing other performance factors.

And fair enough, really. Surely any fleet operator and driver will do everything in their power to take these variables out of the equation?

In fact, the new COR legislation will make it one aspect of the operator’s primary duty to ensure safe operation of the fleet.

"The tangible and immediate benefits of being proactive with tyre management include the – usually irresistible – financial ones, through measurable fuel savings and reduced tyre wear," Caus adds.

"The most significant indirect benefit however, is handling. Recognising and responding to the difference that correctly inflated tyres make to maintaining grip is fundamental, first-base, practical logic."

Of course, the variation in handling performance is only heightened by the condition of tyre tread; especially where road conditions vary unexpectedly, such as becoming slippery on a turn or roundabout due to grease, oils, water and/or ice.

The NTARC report clarifies that the classification of "inappropriate speed" accidents does not imply speeds over the designated speed limit, but obviously still too fast to negotiate the corner, bend, roundabout or other manoeuvre in question.

If a truck driver misjudges a corner or bend resulting in an accident, then the records will show that inappropriate speedwas the cause. The investigating officer can wrap up a report quickly and concisely, unless there are obvious contributing factors such as a tyre blowout or surface debris.

 Greg Forbes
Greg Forbes

Meanwhile, a deeper exploration of the contributing circumstances could explore the margin for error. i.e. what factors could have prevented the accident?

It might be, for instance, that without changing any other factors at all, reducing the vehicle’s speed by 10 km/h would have guaranteed a successful negotiation of the turn.

What if the deep analysis also considered optimum tyres, with optimum tyre pressure for the load? Then, perhaps, the margin for error might have improved enough to have avoided an accident altogether.

Factoring in the top three causes of major accidents: inappropriate speed, driver error or accidents caused by a third party, and assuming the driver has some opportunity to respond, their ability to maintain control is crucial.

It makes for a compelling argument that all operators need to have in place a set of procedures to ensure that not only are their wheels and tyres in good condition but that they are correctly inflated for the load.

"Incorrect or insufficient tyre maintenance, including ensuring tyres are correctly inflated, is one of the safety risks which fleet operators must manage," Forbes says.

"When the role that tyre maintenance plays in overall vehicle performance is considered, the argument becomes even more compelling.

"There are a number of different ways that this can be done ranging from manual procedures, to automated in-cab systems that monitor and even adjust tyre inflation."

This article first appeared in the November edition of ATN. Subscribe to the magazine here.

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