Several states are turning to new safety technology to lessen a continuing significant risk to motorists – the threat of tire blowouts by semi-trucks at high speeds. (Semi-truck refers to the actual truck or tractor that contains the engine and truck driver. Semi-trucks can run on their own without a hauling a semi-trailer.)
Identifying flat or damaged tires on large commercial trucks is mainly done through visual inspections. The new technology uses sensors embedded into the pavement.
The death toll from large truck crashes
Nearly one out of every seven traffic deaths in 2019 involved semi truck crashes. The National Transportation Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported over 5,000 people died in truck crashes in the U.S. that year, and nearly 160,000 more were severely injured.
The NHTSA says 360 traffic deaths from 2015 to 2019 resulted from tire blowouts, flats or other tire-related defects. Most of those killed or injured were occupants in other vehicles. Many of these accidents could have been avoided with better maintenance or inspection methods.
How do road sensors work?
Several Midwestern and Eastern states were the first to use road-based sensors embedded in the pavement to spot flat, underinflated and mismatched tires. Inspectors at weigh stations typically have this information, and trucks can be forced to park until the driver has them replaced or repaired.
Virginia reports around 25,000 unsafe tires have been identified since June 2020, when they started using the technology near one weigh station on Interstate 81. Nebraska says troopers identify about 100 flat truck tires every month at two sites along I-80. Before using the sensors, they spotted fewer than five a month.
Most trucking companies avoid proactive measures
Under federal rules, truck drivers must inspect their vehicles, including tires, before driving and log the results every day. However, safety experts say not every driver performs these inspections, and many cannot spot tire defects. Technology is also available for trucks that monitor and adjust tire pressure, but most companies don’t install these systems on their vehicles.
Road sensors are expected to be in use in nearly half of all states by the end of 2022. Safety groups say they not only protect against blowouts but can prevent the added danger of tire carcasses strewn along roadways, presenting drivers with even more hazards.