Should VOSA Call Time on Old Tyres?
The news that Alan Crickmore, a Gloucestershire coroner has written to the Secretary of State for Transport (Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP) calling for a ban on vehicle tyres that are more than 10 years old lends new support to a cause that has been a topic of discussion within the industry for some time. The case Crickmore referred to was the death of Nazma Shaheen, whose Toyota Lucida was travelling northbound along the M5 when a tyre burst and the car clipped a kerb and rolled over, throwing Mrs Shaheen clear of the vehicle on 6 May 2009. Tyre age was said to have precipitated the accident. What stood out for me the first time I read about this case, apart from the tragic circumstances that initially caused the coroner’s involvement, was the fact that this was the first time that a completely non tyre-related party has publically called for an overhaul of the tyre aging rules.
Looking through Tyres & Accessories’ archives, you can see that TyreSafe’s forebear TIC was publicising tyre age warnings back in 2003. Then the advice was if a tyre is 10 years old or over “the TIC strongly recommends” that it be replaced. The TIC also pointed out that although tyre manufacturers add anti-ageing chemicals to rubber compounds they are “only active when the tyre is in use.” This in turn led to additional advice for tyres that have been used in such circumstances: “if an unused tyre reaches six years old it should not be placed into service.”
Last time DfT reportedly vetoed an old tyre rule
Bringing things more up to date, the NTDA joined forces with the RAC Foundation for an eight-week tyre ageing awareness campaign that commenced on 31 July 2008. In this instance the NTDA urged drivers of low-mileage vehicles to attend free safety checks at NTDA member sites – an effort that the association actually began planning for four years earlier. And it is this context that is particularly interesting in light of Alan Crickmore’s letter to the Transport Secretary.
Back in 2004, prompted by a high-profile accident, the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) contacted the NTDA’s Peter Gaster to ask his advice about the safety of a particular tyre brand. According to Gaster, it soon became clear that the issue at hand was nothing to do with tyre brand, but rather product age – the tyre in question was around 13 years old. VOSA then considered recommending that tyre age be included in annual MOT tests – which it is responsible for overseeing – as an advisory, but the Department of Transport is believed to have vetoed this.
All of this is eerily familiar in light of the latest incident. Could this prove to be another high profile incidence that forces the VOSA into action? In the case of Mrs Shaheen’s accident, the car she was driving was an M-reg Toyota, with 13 year-old tyres. The coroner recorded a verdict of accidental death, but said he did not think she would have died if the tyre had been newer.
There are currently no legal constraints on the ages of tyres, but manufacturers generally agree that a tyre should not be in use beyond 10 years. Some tyre manufacturers and car retailers limit the lifespan to six years but there are no laws regulating this. No one is saying this will be completely straightforward because no-one can give a purely arbitrary sell-by date of a tyre due to the fact that the chemical processes that determine tyre aging depend on external factors such as the storage environment. Dark temperature controlled warehousing offer the longest life, while exposed static fitments (such as on caravans) are probably the worst.
TyreSafe explained this in its latest tyre advice to carvanners, published in June: “The anti-aging chemicals used in tyre rubber compounds are most effective when the tyre is used regularly. The repeated stretching of the rubber compound helps to resist the formation of cracks and ensures the tyre remains flexible and elastic. When tyres remain static and exposed to the sun’s rays [and ozone] for a prolonged period, the protective chemicals within the compound are broken down and destroyed. This leaves the tyre more exposed to damage from UV rays and can make the tyre brittle, hard and inelastic.”
Furthermore: “Caravans that are parked in coastal locations will suffer from tyre ageing issues much sooner than those in regular and frequent use, as the salty conditions speed up the deterioration process. Similarly, any caravan owners who used their vehicles during the snowy periods earlier in the year may also experience accelerated tyre ageing as a result of the salt added to the road surface. Owners should also look for signs of carcass deformation, which is much more likely to be found on caravans that did not have their tyres removed or were not jacked up during the winter period.”
That said, a six or 10 year-old tyre is clearly much more likely to have been exposed to such conditions than a new product. And I don’t think that many people would argue that enforcing an MOT rule to this effect will not improve road safety.
So with this all in mind, will Alan Crickmore’s latest plea for a new law result in an addition to the statute book – or at least a change in the MOT rules? Tyres & Accessories asked the Department for Transport (DfT) what the Transport Secretary is going to do in response to letter he received from the Gloucestershire Coroner. Are there any plans to change MOT rules? “We have received the letter…A reply has not yet been sent to the coroner,” was the answer from a DfT spokesperson.