As part of my day job, I speak at a lot of events on a wide variety of topics. While the content covers practically every aspect of the tire and wheel business, one issue has undoubtedly been the hottest topic over the past few years. Since tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) were mandated by the federal government on all vehicles with a GVWR of less than 10,000 lbs. starting with the 2008 model year, retailers have struggled to some degree to keep up with the operational changes that this technology created. From multiple relearn procedures to the inventory nightmare of stocking hundreds of different parts, it’s been a painful learning experience for those in the passenger and light truck tire industry.
Inevitably, every TPMS discussion turns to the medium truck tire market. I am constantly asked if a similar regulation will mandate this technology on Class 3-8 vehicles and wreak similar havoc. While I cannot speak for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), I usually answer these questions by pointing out a few facts.
First, both NHTSA and FMCSA are focused on improving safety and driven by data. Part of the reason that we have a TPMS regulation for small vehicles is that tire failures at highway speeds resulted in a number of fatalities, so Congress felt it had to act. According to the “Large Truck Crash Causation Study” released by NHTSA in 2006, 65% of the accidents involving the loss of control were caused by the truck driver traveling too fast for conditions. On the other hand, flat tires and blowouts only accounted for 3% of the total accidents caused by the truck. Clearly, the data does not suggest that the underinflated tire problem exists in the trucking industry, which means there is no statistical evidence that similar legislation is necessary to improve safety.
Second, the 2006 study ultimately led to the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program. During official NHTSA testimony before Congress in July of 2012, the agency reported that violations per roadside inspection declined by 8% in the first year of CSA and driver violations fell by 12%. Ask anyone in the fleet maintenance business and they will tell you that CSA has changed the way trucks are maintained and inspected. If you ask drivers if CSA has changed the way they drive, I think most will agree it has forced them to think differently when they are behind the wheel. Again, the goal is to improve safety and the data indicates that CSA is serving its intended purpose, so there is no need to take it a step further.
Finally, the increasing popularity of automatic tire inflation systems (ATIS) on trailers means the industry is voluntarily moving towards tire pressure monitoring. While ATIS does not function like the traditional TPMS, the constant supply of regulated air to the most poorly maintained wheel positions has made a positive impact on operating costs. This explains why about 40% of all new trailers are equipped with ATIS and retrofits continue to take place on existing equipment. And since ATIS does notify the driver when one or more of the trailer tires are losing air, more and more tires are already being “monitored” to some degree.
Unlike most consumers, fleets understand how improper tire inflation negatively impacts operating costs. Between the reduction in fuel mileage and increase in cost per mile related to tires, trucking companies have all the motivation they need to ensure that inflation pressure is checked regularly and adjusted when necessary without any more legislative intervention.