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29/08/2014
SAFE HOLIDAYS? NOT REALLY.

Tires under the spotlight

 

Smooth and damaged tires on the rise, winter tires in the summer, lack of maintenance and inspections. The results of the historical safety campaign, promoted by associations of tire manufacturers and dealers, show a disturbing picture.


Sabrina Negro

 

No one would dream of wearing two different shoes (unless you’re Mario Balotelli) or, even worse, going to the beach wearing snow boots. We’d probably avoid leaving the house with a pair of old worn out shoes, and if we’re, from time to time, attracted by cheap shoes, generally our own feet would protest a little while after the purchase.

Yet, it appears that not a small number of Italian drivers, about 12%, fails to pay the same attention when it come to their vehicle’s “shoes”. After all tires, the only point of contact between the vehicle and the ground, aren’t there for mere appearance, rather they are fundamental to safe traffic circulation.

 

This awareness has been the driving force behind the road safety campaign Vacanze Sicure (safe holidays), promoted by Assogomma and Federpneus together with the Traffic Police Department, with about 10.000 tire inspections planned on vehicles circulating in 6 different Italian Regions.

The survey made between the 16th of May and the 15th of June in Veneto, Tuscany, Emilia Romagna, Trentino-Alto Adige, Umbria and Puglia, representing 31% of the national circulating fleet, has revealed a negative trend in tire non-compliance, a significant 11,87%. If to this figure we add vehicles that failed inspection tests, non-compliance increases to 16,56% of the total number of cars surveyed. A worrying result if we consider that the test sample was made up on average of recent vehicles -  7 years and 3 months – compared to the average of the 37 million cars circulating in Italy, which is of 10 years and 9 months, which means that the survey results could be underestimated.

Considered in detail, Traffic Police inspections showed that the most common form of non-compliance – 4.35% compared to 3% in 2013 – relates to visibly damaged tires ( the peak in Belluno with 18.38% ). A disturbing result if we think that damages and under inflation are the all too common causes of tire structural failure, especially when subjected to the typical temperatures and overloading during  summer vacations. And if we add to this a 3.03% of smooth tires (2.7% in 2013) responsible for longer breaking distances, a common cause of collisions, the picture is not a pretty one.  

Tires not complying with specifications tripled in 2014 (3.36%) and non approved tires (that is, without the certification of the competent authorities) doubled, at 4%, despite heavy sanctions imposed not only on those using these tires, but also upon  producers or dealers involved in illegal distribution.

 

Sure, laziness and lack of attention on the part of motor vehicle users play a relevant part in these results, but it’s difficult not to notice the consequences of a prolonged economic crisis that is pushing car owners to search for the best prices, at times to the expense of safety. Italy has one of the largest circulating fleet in the world, but – as stated by Giuseppe Bisogno, Traffic Police Director, intervened at the press conference for the presentation of the Vacanze Sicure survey in Rome – it’s an old fleet. Nothing bad if vehicles are properly maintained, but with the loss of purchasing power due to the crisis, many car owners tend to save on maintenance.

“It’s about time we started to reward careful car owners who, periodically have their tires checked, using the right tires in every season – as Fabio Bertolotti, Director of Assogomma, said. Tires should be listed among those items that motorists purchase and maintain benefitting from tax deductions. Why is it that the cost of a sofa can be deducted but not the purchase and maintenance of tires? After all, the potential for reducing road accidents, that weigh on our country for almost 30 billion euro, is directly linked to properly maintained tires”.

 

Of particular interest are the figure on winter tires: between May and June, in the regions adhering to the program, 12.44% of examined vehicles still had winter tires on, 1.06% more compared to last year. As recently explained by the Minister of Transport and Infrastructure in a circular letter dated 17 January 2014, this is not forbidden in our country, as long as the winter tire conforms to the specifications on the registration certificate (only 1.95% were using tires with the wrong codes and were therefore punishable). It goes without saying that a careful and safe driver will put on summer tires to enjoy his/her trip to the Ionic coast (a surprising 28.68% of the vehicles inspected in Taranto had winter tires). As we know, the compound used for summer tires ensures grip and low rolling resistance even at high temperatures, and therefore reduced consumption, compared to its winter counterpart.

The survey reveals, right across the country, that virtues and vices are distributed quite evenly. What is comforting, though, is that regions where this kind of inspections have been performed in the past show signs of improvement. It is evident, therefore, that through more inspections it’s possible to educate motorists to pay more than the usual attention to their tires, but to succeed more resources and greater effort are needed by government and local authorities alike.

 

 



PHONING AND DRIVING, PERIL THRIVING

Drugs and alcohol are no longer at the top of the list of worries for traffic police, but the omnipresent cell-phone. This was stated by Giuseppe Bisogno, Traffic Police Director during the press conference for the presentation of the Vacanze Sicure survey, who underscored that, while on the one hand great progress has been made in reducing cases of driving under the influence of either drugs or alcohol, on the other the use of mobile devices while driving seems to be a harder issue to tackle.

Thanks to the monitoring activities of the Association of Traffic Police Friends and Supporters (ASAPS) in the last two months of 2013, what emerged is that one driver out of eight commonly uses the cell-phone while driving either speaking or texting to others, a percentage of 12.4%. What is particularly worrying, though, is that the most frequent use of the mobile was detected in crowded areas like in proximity of pedestrian crossings and other sensitive areas (such as schools, shopping malls, stadiums and hospitals) where, perhaps, the drivers are stimulated  to communicate more than, let’s say, on highways and motorways where greater concentration is needed.

It seems even superfluous to be reminded how dangerous this bad habit really is: distraction is one of the greatest causes of road accidents, and the use of cell-phones badly influences drivers reaction time as well as his ability to control the vehicle. A danger for oneself and for others.

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