Picture the scene: you’re driving to school on a typical gloomy morning. It’s raining, so you’re taking it easy, doing just under 30mph.
Suddenly, there’s a loud bang.
The car starts to spin.
Everything goes so much quicker than you think it will. The car is spinning.
What do I do? What do I do?
Frantically you remember something about turning into a spin, and pressing the gas. But in the panic, you’re not sure which pedal is which, and by the time your brain has told your feet to move, the car has turned a full 180 degrees and you’re on the other side of the road, facing oncoming traffic.
You can only hope the driver speeding towards you does a better job of stopping his car than you did.
The whole thing took less than five seconds.
This was the scenario running through my head last week when I was invited to go and learn more about tyre safety with the team from Protyre, who are urging UK drivers to check their tyres.
As part of a fascinating experiment I got to drive three identical, brand new Peugeot cars. The only difference between the vehicles was their tyres.
The first car had brand new, premium tyres. The second had budget tyres. And the third had tyres that were worn, although they were still legal to drive.
The question was – would I be safer in a car with new tyres?
I drove each car at the same speed (28mph) over a special track at Rockingham that simulated a wet road, or an icy road. At a certain point a metal plate on the track would “bump” my car, simulating a blown-out tyre, sending me into a skid.
We then compared how long it took each vehicle to stop – and for me to get the car under control. You can see the results for yourself here:
Honestly, it was equal parts brilliant fun and terrifying.
I used to think 28mph was very slow – but when your car starts to spin, it feels faster than your brain and feet can move. Almost before you know it, you’ve travelled 30 feet without having any control over your vehicle.
On a test track, that’s sort of a fun ride. But it’s all to easy to imagine what that would feel like on a busy road with your children sitting in the car with you. Terrifying.
A huge number of us drive with tyres that are illegally worn, or borderline. And it makes a HUGE difference to safety.
In the UK a new tyre has a tread that’s around 7.6mm deep. However, it’s completely legal to drive on tyres with a tread depth of anything above 1.6mm. At this point, the car will take around 135 metres to come to a complete stop when driving at a speed of 70mph.
But if your tyres have a tread that’s 3mm, the stopping distance is just 91 metres.
Put another way, if you’re driving at 70mph, your car will come to a stop ELEVEN car lengths sooner if your tyres are in slightly better condition.
Try and picture that in your head. It’s potentially the difference between avoiding a collision and having a very serious accident indeed. Almost 1,000 motorists have been killed or seriously injured as a result of tyre-related incidents in the past five years. So it’s a real thing, with real consequences.
It’s easy to say that obviously a TYRE company wants us to buy more tyres. And certainly, Protyre does fit over 1.6m tyres a year as well as performing thousands of MOTs. But I also had the opportunity to speak with Peter Allington – a fireman who spends his working days helping motorists to stay safe. And he reiterated the advice of the Protyre team:
- Don’t drive on worn tyres, replace them early
- Check tyres weekly, ensuring the pressure and tread are correct
- Use the 20p test (see below) to check tread depth
- Buy the best tyres you can afford – don’t skimp on budget or used tyres
How to Check your Tyres are Safe
The quickest and simplest way to check your tyres is the 20p test. Basically, insert a 20p coin into the tread of your car tyres. If you can see the outer band of the 20p coin, then your tyre tread may be too low, and you might need to replace your tyre. If you can’t see the outer band, then your tyre is well within the legal limit.
Tyre safety is considered to be so important by the emergency services that if you book a fire safety check with your local Fire Service, they will also ask if you have a car, and will offer advice on tyre safety.