Driving is an endemic mode of transport in the UK, and something on which tens of millions of us rely each and every day. According to government statistics, 88% of all passenger-kilometres travelled in 2021 were travelled via a car, van or taxi.
The prevalence of private transport in modern life brings about a unique subset of risks for both drivers and pedestrians, with road-related casualties occurring at an astonishing rate of frequency. Safety should a paramount concern for drivers of all skill levels. Driving safety encompasses a wide range of practices and habits, with car maintenance just as important as promoting safe driving on the road.
Even within the field of car maintenance, there are a great many variables to keep track of; oil levels are crucial to engine health and hence vehicle integrity on the road, while brakes and suspension require regular servicing and checkups. But an often-underestimated element of safe driving is that of your vehicle’s tyres – and specifically, the state of their tread. But how does tyre tread impact your safety as a driver, and how can you ensure a safe driving experience?
Tyre Tread and Stopping Distances
Your tyres’ tread is the mechanism by which traction is gained. The grooves in the tyres allow water to be displaced, preventing the car from slipping or coasting on a thin layer of un-displaced water. This is called hydroplaning, and can be highly dangerous to experience even as an experienced driver. The outer tread blocks of the tyre are there to retain road contact when cornering.
If a tyre’s tread wears down, the car loses traction, and becomes more prone to hydroplaning or skidding. This has a deleterious impact for stopping distances, where worn tyres can increase stopping distances significantly (particularly in wet conditions). It is for this reason that there is a legal minimum tread depth to which tyres must adhere, or else the vehicle is no longer road-legal.
Tips for Safety
Safety is the paramount concern for drivers, but there is the small matter of protecting value, too. With car tyres, cheaper brands can give out well before the tread wears down – while even the more expensive brands can be weakened by scrapes and scratches against the kerb or other drivers. Specific forms of tyre insurance can be used to protect the value of tyres, and cover the cost of replacement in case of tears and scrapes. This can have indirect safety impacts in allowing you to afford more expensive and hardwearing tyres, minimising future risk.
Generally speaking, though, safe driving habits can also improve the health and longevity of tyres, granting multiple benefits in terms of driver safety. Hard acceleration and braking can put unnecessary wear on the tyres, where coasting round corners and to halts can be beneficial.
Tyre wear is an inevitability even with safe driving and regular maintenance. As such, you should measure tread depth regularly to ensure you remain safe and legal. If your car is used infrequently, you should move your car on a regular basis to ensure the tyres don’t deform un-uniformly under the weight of the vehicle.