Between letters to the editor at local newspapers and Internet blogs, it's easy to find an abundance of motorists who believe that retreads should be made illegal because of the “alligators” that litter the roadways. The tire and transportation industries have conducted studies on tire debris and every time, the results showed that retreads did not represent an overwhelmingly large percentage of the rubber that is present on the highway. Critics and pundits discredited the analysis as another perfect example of the fox watching the henhouse.

For the past few years, the federal government has been in the process of making changes to the new truck tire testing standards, as they have already done with new passenger and light truck tires. The task has proven to be particularly difficult because of retreads and the millions of dollars they save in costs to trucking companies, not to mention the savings in natural resources and energy. New tire testing is traditionally destructive where the tire is subjected to extreme laboratory tests, until it fails. Retreads were not covered under the old test, but the constant public outcry and negative publicity forced the government to address the issue with the new standards.

Perhaps a good start is the new Commercial Medium Tire Debris Study just released from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). I'm not usually one to quote anything or anyone. In this case, however, I have to make an exception, so the following is a direct quotation from the summary of the report on page 188:

“The analysis of tire fragments and casings collected in this study has found that the proportion of tire debris from retread tires and OE tires is similar to the estimated proportion of retread and OE tires in service. Indeed, the OE versus retread proportions of the collected tire debris broadly correlated with accepted industry expectations. Additionally, there was no evidence to suggest that the proportion of tire fragments/shreds from retread tires was overrepresented in the debris items collected. Examination of tire fragments and tire casings (where the OE or retread status was known) found that road hazard was the most common cause of tire failure, at 38% and 36% respectively.

“The analysis of tire casings found maintenance and operational issues accounted for 32% of the failures while over-defection accounted for 16%. Analysis of tire fragments found that excessive heat was evident in 30% of the samples examined. These results suggest that the majority of tire debris found on the nation's highways is not a result of manufacturing/process deficiencies. Similar findings are corroborated in earlier studies of tire debris. The evaluation of available crash data shows that vehicle crashes related to truck tire failure and truck tire debris are very rare events that account for less than 1% of traffic crash involvements.”

Even to the most pessimistic motorist/journalist, this study should prove once and for all that the “gators” on the side of the road are not all retreads. The study was sponsored by the government and conducted by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, so there should be no opposition to the findings based on the interests of the entity doing the studying. And there should be no question that retreads are just as safe as new tires.

I used the word “should” in all three statements because public opinion is difficult to change, but at least the industry has a solid defense the next time someone feels retreads should be outlawed.