Blown truck tires are a serious highway hazard

We were on I-69 a few miles north of I-94 in Michigan, headed off for a 10 day swing through Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia. We came close to ending it on our first day.

Bang!

blowntireLike a small explosion, a tire on a huge semi-tractor rig blew, just as we were about to pass it. Instinctively, I braked and swerved left onto the shoulder, just as a huge chunk of tire came careening into my  lane, right about where the windshield would have been if I hadn’t hit the brakes.

In my rear view mirror I saw other tire parts behind me.

It was a narrow miss.

Jennifer and I breathed deeply, thanked God for sparing us and realized how bad it could have been.

All the rest of the drive down south, we both started paying attention to the huge chunks of hard rubber from blown truck tires that are strewn all over our highways.

As I type this, I’m at a picnic table at our campsite  for the night along I65 north of Nashville. I just finished Googling the problem and found that debris littering the highways and interstates of  North America causes over 25,000 accidents and at least 100 deaths each year in the United States and Canada. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reports that blown tire pieces are the number one road debris.

The tire safety experts say this is the worst time of year, when high temperatures cause the most stress on tires. As we’ve been driving the past two days, the temps have been in the upper eighties and low nineties and seemingly every mile of toad has shredded remnants of 18 wheeler truck tires on the highway — called “gators” in the trucking industry.

The origin of gators is in dispute, especially the idea that most gators come from capped or retreaded tires. Retreading is a process that saves money by shaving down old tires to their casing and attaching and bonding a new exterior.

“On these extremely hot days, the adhesive that holds these treads together gets hot enough that they lose adhesiveness,” said David Decker, director of operators at Western Truck School in West Sacramento, CA, in an article I found in the Merced Sun Star newspaper.

It’s easy to see why retreads are in use. New truck tires cost $600 or so. Retreads $200.

Despite the critics, a 2008 study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that showed retreaded tires were no more likely to blow out than new tires.

But with such much debris on our roads, somebody needs to be working hard to curtail the problem.  If that’s happening, it isn’t evident on the roadways.

I have a great deal of respect for professional truck drivers.  I know the vast majority of them take good care of their rigs and would never cut corners by using inferior or dangerous tires.

Accidents do happen. Truck tires do blow. But they blow a  lot. Just look at the debris.

I think we need to make reducing those blowouts a top highway safety priority. The problem is serious and it is costing lives.

Meantime, be careful out there and stay alert.

37 thoughts on “Blown truck tires are a serious highway hazard”

  1. We were driving past a semi & his rear tire tread was coming loose, scary, it finally flew off after we had passed. The driver must have noticed because he pulled off onto the shoulder. So many of them just drive on & don’t clear up the remnants!

  2. They blow a lot because there are a lot of trucks on the road and they have 4x the number of tires than autos do. Have you ever observed the ratio of trucks vs. passenger cars on a “truck route?” I’ve seen ratios of 6:1 and 8:1 with the higher number being the trucks. Taking the back roads instead of the Interstates is more relaxing, less noisy, far more beautiful, and, usually, safer.

  3. learn to recognize the smell – it’s a very distinctive burnt rubber smell. sometimes you can see bluish-white smoke, but the smell is the best indicator. if you smell it, you know some truck in front of you is fixing to shed a tire tread. knowing the smell saved me once – i immediately got in the other lane, and was alongside the truck when the tire finally went, so close that i noticed bits of hot rubber stuck to my windshield the next time i stopped. it was so loud it sounded like a gunshot. if i had still been behind him, i’d have gotten an alligator in the teeth.

  4. Karsten Askeland

    No doubt this this is definitely a concern. I had a similar incident earlier this month on a trip down east. Truck in front threw its’ tread and I hard to swerve to avoid it. First time I have actually seem it happen, although I have certainly seen my fair share of “gators” on the road.
    All the more reason to always be alert and vigilant when driving and not fiddling with radio, cells phones or any other distracting devices while driving.

  5. My issue with the whole blowout scenario is that the debris stays on the road way too long! Someone, either the truck driver or the tire service company that responds, should be required to clean up the pieces of tire that litter the road. Or at the very least, they should be required to call the local DOT and report the debris on the road to get it cleaned up as quickly as possible. Veering around debris on the road or hitting tire debris because you can veer around it may contribute to accidents and damage to other vehicles on the road! I just spent 8 months on the road and everywhere you look there are pieces of tires strewn along the highways and interstates!

  6. HI Mike,
    On the subject of blown tires, have you obtained your rig weight by having all 4 wheel positions on a scale? What is on the door post label is not always accurate. Knowing your actual weight will give you the correct air pressure to use from tire mfg charts.
    You did lot of sightseeing last trip with many family members and dogs in your rig, add their weight to coach weight, you may be in for a schock.
    You can get 4 wheel weights at FMCA Conventions and other rallies.
    Safe travels….
    Harry Salit

  7. Maintaining a open view is a priority. Plus don’t spend any longer alongside the semi than needed.

  8. I was driving home on Rt 17/86 the other day, doing about 70mph in my buick sedan, I heard a loud noise coming up on my right side, just as I see a tractor trailer flying past me, as he passes me the right rear outer tire is blown out and the tread separated from the sidewalls what looked like half way around, there is tire rubber being slung everywhere, there is the rubber flapping all over, slapping the other tires, the underside of the trailer and everything it comes in contact with, the trailer axle is bouncing up and down violently, and the whole rear of the trailer is shaking like it’s about to disintegrate, there is white smoke in a cloud emanating from this trailer and he is leaving a trail of rubber and tire smoke all over the place, all while passing me like I am standing still, I never did catch up to him, I sped up to see if I could catch up to warn the driver, but I have a feeling he already knew, I tried to get some info off the back of the trailer to no avail, I hit 80mph and could not catch him, I did not dare go any faster as every moment a chunk of tire was being flung out. And just like that he was gone. I finished my drive home seeing tire rubber all over the road, eventually coming across huge belts of rubber where the cap must have finally come off

  9. I may as well share this too, years ago when I dropped out of college I got a job about 1/2 hr from home, I drove my 85 honda CRX to work every morning on RT78, I was halfway to work when a tractor trailer in front of me kicked up a cap that was laying on the road, I had nowhere to go, I was doiing about 60 and I was a good distance from this trailer, I did have a car overtaking me on the left. The “gator” slammed the lower part of my front bumper cover and got sucked under my car, I am not exagerating when I say that my car was airborne for a brief moment, it was loud, it was violent and it was scary. I pulled over to the shoulder and got out to assess, the bumper cover was destroyed but other than that the only other damage was to my underpants. Yup I did take the next exit and headed home to change my clothes. I was late to work.

  10. Agreed…good report, Mike. Definitely a North American Problem. One wonders, with stretched budgets everywhere, will this problem get worse as less of this debris gets removed from highways?

  11. Mike,

    It’s yet one more reason to support construction of more intermodal transfer points. These terminals load trailers onto trains and move trucks off the road. While I understand truckers have to make a living and profit margins are narrow, I think ICC should be checking tire temperatures with handheld mobile units. Temperature is not a friend of any tire much less a retread. Retreads add to the trucker’s bottom line but also add, as you rightly cited, hazards on the highway.

    The police departments need to be more aggressive in speed law enforcement for trucks. Most truckers view the limits as suggestions knowing they can go 10% over and not be stopped. Some western states have a zero tolerance at night. Wyoming has radar that senses you coming and going and they will stop you even if you’re going the other way.

    Me? I used to speed. Now, I set the cruise on the limit, conditions permitting, and let others pass. It’s funny. I’ve watched as others fall in behind me and do the limit as if my doing it gave them permission.

    Thanks for the great report!

    Bill

  12. Trucks aren’t the only ones to have a tire explode. I was driving south on I-15 from Great Falls, MT to Helena and my right inner rear tire exploded. I was able to pull over with no difficulty and get help to change the tire. I was surprised because the tires were only two years old and not retreads. I replaced all four of the rear tires after that (two front ones were new). Better to be safe than sorry. Because of traffic going by at 70 mph, I did not venture out on the highway to retrieve the treads. Sorry folks.

  13. I was about an hour north of Sacramento last Friday and started getting a vibration like a tire was out of balance. I had it checked Saturday morning and found that the tread had separated on the right rear wheel. That could have easily turned into a blowout. A blowout in a high profile vehicle like a Roadtrek can cause one to lose control.
    Check out this site http://vanangels.com
    I met a fellow traveler who had converted his van to dual rear wheels.

  14. They are even more dangerous for motorcyclists. I was tagged by one a few years back. Fortunately, I got away with just a hard slap to the balls of my feet.
    Retreads should not be allowed on truck tyres.

  15. Drivers swerving around tire debris left on the road is another dangerous situation. I think there should be a law that someone should be responsible for contacting the local DOT that maintains the roadway so that the debris can be quickly and safely removed from the roadway. Perhaps the truck tire service company could do it after getting the call to respond to a vehicle. The dispatcher could then call the local DOT or Police to report the location of the debris.

  16. We could not miss one a couple of years ago in our 210 P and it ruptured t he gates to our black and gray water tanks. The Restaurant we stopped at doesn’t want us back. Got re-plumbed and we watch constantly now, and swerve carefully when we can.

  17. The interstates in our country where originally set up for our military & interstate commerce, not for people to get to work faster & “holiday” travelers, just sayin

  18. Many years ago we were pulling our 5th wheel and it was bumper to bumper. Not time to swerve like the truck in front of us did. UGH. Be safe and alert out there.

  19. this is so true ..driving down to Florida on I95 was terrible with all the retread tires all over the road..Between all the pot holes,treads and idiot drivers that think an RV can stop on a dime it was nuts out there..

  20. I am so tired, no pun intended, of retread tire pieces on our roads! 18-wheeler tires shredding on our roads cause so much damage to our cars. I am amazed insurance companies do not pursue litigation to outlaw retread tires. These kind of tire repairs may save truck companies money rather than buying new tires but they are a hazard to all drivers on the road! Let’s get these retread tire repairs outlawed! Tell us your story!

  21. On Pennsylvania Turnpike on way to Lancaster we just missed a gator as we were in the left lane. We weren’t so lucky on the way home we ran over one and luckily no damage. Extremely dangerous as you run over them at 65+ mph. We were lucky.

  22. Tire debris in day is bad enough, but at night it can be almost impossible to spot until you are right on it. Has anyone ever done/considered putting reflective pain on the inside of tires? You wouldn’t see it when the tire is intact, but once a tire shreds there is at least a 50/50 chance that you’ll get some advance reflective warning of that gator in your lane with (hopefully) more advance warning. I like to cycle and this reflective paint is being used more and more for bicycles–http://www.gizmag.com/lumen-retro-reflective-city-bike/31323/

  23. Found this article because I was searching if it is mandatory for truck drivers to ensure the remnants of their blown tires are removed from the road or if they are simply free to abandon them. I am incredibly upset because I hit a the tread from a very large tire that could only have been from a large commercial truck. As you would expect, it caused damage to my vehicle. Damage that I, not the low-life piece of trash driver who left it in the highway, will have to repair.

    Fortunately, I can afford it. However, that doesn’t mean I’m “ok” with it.

    Is it wrong to hope the piece of crap drivers who leave these landmines on our roads suffer in some manner for the sole reason they left them to harm others? If so, I can live with being wrong.

  24. June 9, 2015…IN A SPLIT SECOND, YOUR LIFE CAN BE WIPED OUT JUST THIS EASY I-35, in Okla. City, going North, 4 miles South of Frontier City yesterday afternoon around 2 PM. In front of me a fairly new Ford Escort, in front of him a U Haul and In front of him a Semi. Semi blows a retread tire, tire goes under U Haul, U Haul rear end bounces as tire goes under it…tire hits Escort and wipes out the front bumper which passes under the car..tire and Escort front bumper both hit my Toyota Camary smack dab in the middle of my nose…..everything flies apart, goes under my car and hits several other cars. Camary lower grill is gone, undercarriage in shambles and dragging the ground, bumper split in two pieces. THANK GOD FOR KEEPING US SAFE (ME, MY WIFE AND THREE G-CHILDREN) AS WE WERE HEADED TO FRONTIER CITY FOR A FAMILY DAY.

    THANK YOU TRUCKERS AND TO THE DEPT OF TRANSPORTATION OR WHOEVER THAT ALLOWS YOU TO RUN CHEAP ASS RETREADS, ENDANGERING ALL OUR LIVES. This also happened to 6 weeks ago when I was headed South to OKC from Tulsa. Lucky that time as the trucks tire went under my Toyota Tacoma, only screwed up the exhaust.

  25. I’m a truck driver myself, as I sit here on the side of Interstate 20 in Texas waiting on roadside assistance to come replace my tire because this particular trailer has blown five brand new retreads in the past month. The trailer has an auto inflation system, so it can’t be under-inflation of the tires (especially with over 90% tread life and no unusual wear). I as a driver have no say in what kind of tires my company buys. I wish they would outlaw retreads. I can’t stand them and every driver I know feels the same way.

  26. I realize this thread is old but my information is new. I am a motorcycle rider and ride a lot of miles annually. Recently returned from Western Europe moto ride. 9000 miles and 18 countries. Lots of trucks everywhere! I saw tire debris on the road or road side TWICE in that 7 weeks. I get back to the states and am pretty confident you won’t travel 10 minutes anywhere in the US on highway or freeway without encountering shredded tires. It makes me very angry at our legislatures and the trucking lobby. It is a big danger and should not be the responsibility of DOT maintenance crews to have to pick up remnants of retreads and capped tires. They need to be outlawed!

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