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The regions of Lombardy, Campania and East Sicily were the locations of the “Vacanze Sicure 2012” campaign with tyre checks carried out by Polstrada: the aim is to raise user awareness, prevent and respond to illegal use - from tread wear below the limit to non-homologated tyres.

Francesco Lojola

MILAN, Catania and then Naples: a three-stage tour of Italy between the end of  April and the beginning of June for the “Vacanze Sicure 2012” (safe holidays) event. As with the previous surveys promoted by Assogomma and Federpneus under the aegis of “Pneumatici sotto Controllo” and carried out by the road police since 2003, the new campaign also included thousands of vehicle checks: “More than 10,000 in just over two months” – Assogomma director Fabio Bertolotti pointed out – “aimed at drawing an overall picture of the tyres on the vehicles that use our roads and motorways every day, the condition of which is important for driving safely but is frequently neglected or even ignored”. Coming under the scrutiny of the patrols involved in the initiative were over 12 million vehicles on arterial roads in Lombardy, Campania and East Sicily. 

“In recent years”  – said Giuseppe Salomone, who heads Polstrada Campania  – “they have started to get through to the public not only about taking care of tyres but also on the general subject of road safety. With the ‘Vacanze Sicure 2012’ campaign we will continue and intensify the checks that have already had good results and aim at raising awareness”. In the light of the checks carried out previously, there is no doubt that they are necessary: the tread depth of at least three tyres in a hundred was below legal limits in the more virtuous areas, the same number had dangerous visible damage, over 50% had deflated tyres (with dangerous pressure levels in 7-8% of these), and a significant number had non-homologated tyres. 


Risky behaviour 

“Legal obligations apart, the drivers who realize that vehicles and tyre pressures must be checked regularly for their own safety and that of others are still in a minority” – Salomone continued. “Getting this aspect fully understood is the result we want to achieve”. “Our aim” – repeated Tommaso Cacciapaglia, director of the road police in Lombardy – “is to reduce road accidents and mortalities and certainly not to rake in fines”. Which there will be if the  surveys carried out in recent years with specific reference to tyres confirm transgressions in at least one case in five. 

“Our aim is the non-repressive identification of forms of illegality by intensifying targeted checks also of transport vehicles, especially trucks with foreign number plates as these cause the majority of accidents; this is in addition to all our other day-to-day activities”. As in the past, patrols are equipped with precision tread-depth gauges. Salomone added “We don’t want the increased number of checks for ensuring safe travel to be accompanied by an increase in fines”. It would confirm that the message has been received, even by the seemly less receptive. “It is true” – Cacciapaglia admits – “that we are still struggling to get young people to listen to us in a way that will affect their behaviour”. 


Prevention first and foremost

“The most accident-prone are in fact in the 14-to-30 age group: it is a phenomenon we are very concerned about and it is a constant battle for law enforcement agencies”. All the more so in view of the EU programme that aims to halve the number of road accident victims by 2020; in Europe, the social cost of road accidents is 130 billion euros a year. “The intrinsic safety of latest-generation vehicles” – continued the commander of Polstrada Lombardy  – “is indisputable; it is the human element that must be dealt with”. Education and information for road users, which it is hoped will be combined with an improvement in infrastructures as well as increased controls. But at a time of recession, it is more than ever essential to build up pressure through awareness-raising campaigns. “Added to the obvious critical factors” – Bertolotti said – “is the fact that vehicles are older and this does not come down on the side of safety. Nor do the recent checks carried out at retailers, which have shown a dangerous rise in the number of tyres that are being replaced when they are already bald”. In Italy, registrations total about 49 million vehicles, over 37 million of which are cars. 


Older cars on the road

In parallel with the rise in the number of vehicles on the road (due to the downturn in demolitions that followed an incentive-induced surge, and the collapse in sales of new vehicles), over the past two years the average age of a vehicle has gone from 7.5 to 8.2 years. “Nowadays, about 40% of vehicles are over 10 years old. In Lombardy the average age of a vehicle is 6.5 years, but in Sicily and Campania it is over 10 and 11 years, respectively”. The crisis has hit hard and it is a risk factor that is added to the probable increase in the phenomenon of non-homologated tyres. “This is” – Salomone observed – “a real risk and a phenomenon we must take into account. There can be no doubt that because of financial problems some people are constrained to turn to the illegal  market of non-homologated tyres. We must make every effort to prevent their spread by finding out when they arrive in the territory and by continuing to check retailers and garages”. And the port city of Naples lays itself open to the entry of these products, as did Genoa a few years ago.


Illegal tyre warnings

In accordance with the Highway Code, the manufacturers of non-homologated tyres for sale in Italy or the vendors of the same are subject to fines ranging from 779 to 3,119 euros. 

“’Illegal’ tyres exist and ‘the discovery’” –  Bertolotti confirmed – “was made five years ago when they were mainly for scooters: almost 20% of the vehicles checked were illegal; this is no longer the case, but in the meantime the phenomenon has grown with regard to cars. A survey conducted in Liguria in 2011 showed that about 10% of vehicles had non-homologated tyres”. In other words, the official marking on the wall of the tyre composed of the letter “E” and a number identifying the country of manufacture inside a circle or rectangle. Moreover, for several years now the marking has included the letter “s” after the homologation number and refers to compliance with the limits for external rolling noise. There might also be the letter “w” for wet, which means that it conforms with the new parameters of the imminent European label. “But” –  warned the director of Assogomma – “look out for the unknown Far East brands that are flooding the market. The alarm also concerns counterfeiting because of reports of tyres stamped with fake markings that put the safety of all road users at stake”.

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