Illegal tyres are becoming an ever more regular occurrence when police stop cars for vehicle defects. With winter approaching and the threat of more adverse weather conditions, drivers are being urged to pay more attention to their tyres.
By analysing data from Britain’s police forces, researchers from garage chain Kwik Fit found that half (50 per cent) of the defective vehicles stopped in 2015 had illegal tyres. That’s up by 10 per cent over 2013. Two thirds (65 per cent) of drivers who were given penalty points for a dangerous vehicle had tyres below the minimum 1.6mm tread depth.
A quarter of cars stopped with dodgy rubber (26 per cent) had tyres with the cord or ply exposed. Cords are part of the structure of a tyre. If you can see them it means the tyre is seriously worn and possibly structurally damaged and could be liable to suffer a sudden deflation or blow out.
Roger Griggs, communications director at Kwik Fit, said: “These figures reveal that some drivers on British roads are taking serious risks with both their own safety and the safety of other road users. We would encourage drivers to pay much closer attention to the condition of their tyres – after all they are the only things keeping their car connected to the road.
“There is absolutely no excuse for a tyre being worn down so far that its ply or cord is exposed. It will have gone past the legal minimum tread depth way before that point. If drivers are trying to save money on their motoring, then risking penalty points, a fine and higher insurance premiums by not replacing their tyres is not the best way to go about it.”
Other problems that police find when they stop cars with illegal tyres include bulges or tears in tyres, incorrectly inflated tyres, or tyres that aren’t the right sort for the vehicle they’re fitted to.
The Kwik Fit findings come during pressure group TyreSafe’s annual Tyre Safety Month. This October’s campaign is called ‘Don’t chance it. Check it.’ It’s aimed at encouraging drivers to inspect their tyre’s tread depth. During research with Highways England, TyreSafe visited more than 800 tyre dealers and checked 380,000 tyres. It found that one in four tyres were changed when they’d gone past the legal limit. It means there could be as many as 10 million illegal and dangerous tyres on the road in 2016 Britain.
Tread depth is vital for road safety. And safety experts advise drivers change their tyres when the tread has worn down to 3mm rather than the legal minimum of 1.6mm. During its research, tyre maker Continental found that a Ford Focus would take 91m to stop from 50mph in wet conditions with tread at 3mm. In exactly the same conditions but with tyres that had 1.6mm of tread, the same car took 135m – half as much again.
How to check a tyre’s tread depth
You can check the tread depth of car tyres using a 20p piece. All you do is put the coin in the tread groove. If the rim around the outside of the coin is visible, the tyre is illegally worn. Remember to check all the tread grooves across the tyre as they can wear unevenly Alternatively, you can buy tread depth testers from any motor retail store for just a few pounds.
As part of Tyre Safety Month, some tyre retailers are offering free tyre checks. Find your nearest participating tyre retailer here.
Illegal tyres: the penalty
The law takes a very dim view of drivers with illegal tyres on their car. The maximum fine is £2500 and three penalty points per illegal tyre. If all four tyres are worn beyond 1.6mm, you could in theory lose your licence.