Car Tires From a Personal Injury Attorney’s Point of View

I know. Nobody likes to talk about car tires, much less spend money on replacing them. It’s a dull subject unless you’re really into racing or the gigantically tired “muddin’” pick-ups. But as a personal injury attorney, I cannot tell you how many injury cases I have handled as a result of crashes from faulty or worn tires, or, even worse, being slammed by a car/truck/semi-tractor trailer after its tires failed through no fault of my client.

First a personal story: As a law school student I routinely drove from Emory Law School in Atlanta, Georgia to Palm Harbor where I lived for winter and summer breaks. It was a straight 7 hour shot up or down Interstate 75 and I got to the point where I could do it without much thought.

Of course, what forced me to keep my wits about me was my heap of a car. A (then) 15 year old domestic sedan held together by routine maintenance regularly financed by the Bank of Mom & Dad to keep it somewhat road worthy. I think its color was rust; or maybe that’s just an apt description of its general condition. My selective memory fails me.

I remember after one particularly draining semester driving home for Christmas recess to warm and sunny Florida. I also recall it was a Sunday for reasons I’ll get into in a bit. Once I passed the Florida border from Georgia I knew I was more than halfway home. Woo-hoo! A few more hours and I’m done.

Way north of Gainesville my car began to bounce as if I was on unpaved road. Then it lurched to the right. Then came an unpleasant flapping noise, then a screeching grind sound. All of this at 75 miles per hour, but with rapidly decreasing speed. Without dragging this out, I made my way over to the shoulder of the road without hitting anything or anyone and wondered how long I’d have to sit on the shoulder of I-75 before some good Samaritan would take pity on me. There were no cell phones.

However, I was enormously lucky. As my car limped on the shoulder of the interstate at the rate slightly faster than a three wheeled bicyclist at a mobile home park, I approached a road sign: “Micanopy – 1 mile”.

Micanopy? I’ve driven this route countless times and had never noticed Micanopy. Who can even pronounce it? Was this blip on a map even inhabited? What are the chances that anything’s open on a Sunday in Micanopy? I wondered if they might even have a phone where I can call AAA?

Now, I swear on my Florida Bar license this is a true story: As my car limped, scraped, flapped and hissed its way down the exit ramp to Micanopy at the foot of the exit ramp was……….a gas station with a garage. Was this some cruel joke to place a garage just where I need it on a Sunday when it would surely be closed?

For some reason explainable only by the merger of divine intervention and dumb luck, the car garage at the end of the I-75 exit ramp in Micanopy, Swampsville County, Florida was open.

The general discussion with my savior mechanic was that a lot of the time when tires go bad on I-75 the driver loses control with some disasterous results. Cars flipping, median impacts, multiple car crashes. I was enormously lucky. I gladly paid some enormous amount of money to this man who changed my tire and got me home again.

Which brings me back to the focus of my blog post. Tires. One way to maintain attention spans on tedious subjects are bullet points, so here goes:

• Tires begin to age the day it is manufactured. Rubber degrades;
• There are many factors which can make tires age faster. Here in Florida, it’s obviously HEAT. Also underinflation, overinflation, when tires aren’t properly balanced, quick starts, excessive sudden stops, etc;
• Even if the car isn’t used much, old tires need to be replaced. The age of a tire can be determined by the last four digits in the “TIN’ number. A TIN number usually looks something like this: “DOT MA L9 1509. The “1509″ number refers to the manufacture date – the fifteenth week of 2009. “DOT” references the Department of Transportation and the “L9″ is the tire size.

Hot Climates: The statistics on crashes in Southern states and due to old/faulty tires is staggering. A particular brand of tire (no longer on sale) was determined by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration’s investigation to show 85 percent of the injuries and 90 percent of the fatalities occurred in southern states, with 68 percent of the fatalities occurring in California, Arizona, Texas and Florida.

The reason is simply the internal rubber in the tire became less resistant to fatigue crack growth as it aged, thus increasing the risk of failure.

Summary: While we have no control over the tire condition of others on the road, we can minimize the risk of a crash by having our tires in good order. Tires regularly need to be checked for proper inflation, good tread and regularly balancing. If the tires are old, replace them. Some car manufacturers state that all tires older than 6 years need to be replaced.

While this is all good common sense, it is often overlooked. If cars fell out of the sky like improperly maintained airplanes, we’d be more vigilant. But bad tires can result in considerable danger at high speeds. Check your tires today.

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