During my recent stint in the United Arab Emirates, I led a group of business students through development of a Road Safety Awareness campaign. Having spent four years investigating fatal traffic incidents in the greater Brisbane Metropolitan Area (Queensland, Australia), many years ago, it was an interesting revisit to road safety.
The Emirates has the highest road fatality rate in the world eg, in Dubai, one person dies every 32 h from some kind of road trauma. The rest of the country also figures high in road deaths. One area of our research that got my attention was the inordinately high number of single vehicle incidents apparently involving tyre failure.
The Emirates has some of the best roads I have seen; divided carriageways in excellent condition, multiple lanes, fencing to keep stock from the road, and brightly lit during the night. It also has some of the worst drivers and very lax law enforcement. Although the speed limits posted on major highways are 120 km/hr, most believe they can do 140 km/hr without being fined for speeding. Many people go much faster.
With money to burn, petroleum prices a pittance, fast cars and inexperience, it’s a dangerous mix that kills many young Emirati nationals every year. The mix is even more dangerous when drivers have no knowledge of tyre specifications and maintenance. I feel sure this lack of knowledge about tyres, apart from speed and lack of experience and attention, is a major cause of the many roll-overs on perfectly straight, well-engineered roads.
Tyres have different specifications depending on their use. Those specifications don’t only include such things as tread pattern, style and depth, construction etc, but more importantly, the maximum sustainable speed at which they can be used for long duration driving and maximum weight limitations.
It figures that if you buy a tyre with a maximum sustainable speed of 120 km/hr, it’s not a safe practice to travel for long at higher speeds. Given that the Emirates is a very hot country with ambient temperatures in summer months often around or above 50 degrees Celsius, the capacity of tyres to withstand high temperatures is also essential.
When buying tyres for a vehicle, the owner/driver needs to consider where, how and for how long the vehicle will be used. Getting water dispersant tread patterns in the Emirates would be pointless… it rarely rains, whereas in those cities with high rainfall, it makes much more sense. What one needs for the Emirates is a tyre that will sustain high speed driving on very hot roads for at least three to five hours at a time. While the loading capacity of a tyre isn’t as important (they are usually overspecified) on sedan vehicles, on a light truck, it needs to be factored into the purchase decision. Additionally, the loads placed in light trucks need to fit tyre capacity. No overloading.
The next important considerations are tyre inflation and wheel alignment. Improper wheel alignment will cause tyres to wear unevenly and is usually a matter of wasting money by reducing tyre use rather than a safety matter (unless the tyre becomes bald). Tyre pressure, however, is critical.
Manufacturers of tyres and motor vehicles specify the inflation pressure of tyres, usually with varying loads. Apart from wearing out tyres faster if they are under or over-inflated, tubeless tyres can also roll off their rims if they don’t have sufficient air pressure. With too much air pressure, tyres may burst or develop weak spots in the tyre walls. These may eventually fail causing tyre blowout, collapse or complete disintegration.
Given that the tyres are what keep a vehicle from skidding and provide traction, it’s not rocket science to suggest that they are an integral part of overall road safety. Poor tyre selection, improper use and poor maintenance can lead to disasters.
If we could only get Emirati drivers to pay more attention to their tyre selection, maintenance and use, the lives of many people could be saved annually. But, as I found so many years ago, changing people’s attitudes is so very difficult, even when it involves saving their lives.
How long is it since you checked your tyre pressure?
Copyright 2008, Robin Henry