FOX19 Investigates: Aging school bus tires

FOX19 Investigates: Aging school bus tires (VIDEO)

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - School buses are responsible for transporting thousands of children to and from school in southwestern Ohio each day, and now safety advocates are expressing concern about aging school bus tires.

“An aged tire is nothing more than a ticking time bomb,” said Matt Wetherington, a Georgia attorney who has handled tire defect cases. Wetherington also founded Tire Safety Group, an advocacy organization aimed at educating the public on tire safety.

"Your don't want a preteen tire being the key safety component for the preteens on the bus," he said. "The tires should be replaced if they show any signs of wear, any signs of oxidation, damage, and under just a good maintenance policy, they should be replaced after 10 years."

Tires are imprinted with a tire identification or serial number on the sidewall. The identification numbers are batch codes that identify the week and year the tire was produced. The code is in an oval to the far right of the letters DOT (Department of Transportation). The first two digits indicate the week, the second two identify the year.

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After examining buses from several Cincinnati-area public school districts, while the vast majority of tires were less than five years old, some were more than 10 years old. The oldest tire found was a 1998 tire located on the rear axle of a suburban Cincinnati district school bus.

"That seems very old, '98," said Carolyn Thornton, the transportation director for Mason City Schools. "I wouldn't put a '98 casing on any of my buses. Our number one concern is cargo, we're not hauling boxes like UPS. We have precious cargo."

Mason City Schools runs 120 buses on 93 routes daily. Thornton said that front tires must be "virgin" - or new tires with no retreads. She said they can safely re-tread rear tires up to three times. The district follows the industry standard of replacing tires at 10 years.

"There's absolutely no federal guidelines that gives these school districts guidance on how to replace the retreaded tires. There's been very little testing done, there's been very little information provided them by the manufacturers," Wetherington said.

While tire safety advocates argue aging tires can be dangerous, tire makers counter there are a number of factors that affect aging.

"There's no data to support that chronological age is the primary factor in safety performance. What data does support is that proper maintenance and the use of a tire have a much stronger impact on a tire's safety performance, said Dan Zielinski, spokesperson for the Rubber Manufacturers Association. "Tire failures can occur regardless of the age of the tire. A 10-year-old tire can be perfectly safe if it's been properly used and maintained. A one-year-old tore can be an accident waiting to happen, if it's not been maintained, or if it's been damaged and not removed from service."

Ohio State Highway Patrol (OHP) has no restrictions regarding tire age for school buses. According to the 2014 OHP Licensing and Commercial Standards' school bus inspection manual, "tires shall have a tread depth of not less than 4/32 inch for the steering axle and not less than 2/32 inch for the rear tires, measured anywhere on any major groove. No anus shall be operated on any tire that has body ply or belt material exposed through the tread or sidewall or has any tread or sidewall separation. No retreads, recapped, regrooved, patched or plugged tires are permitted on the steering axle. No regrooved tires allowed on a bus."

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) does not specify a requirement for how old tires may be when they are sold or replaced. Some vehicle manufacturers recommend that tires be replaced every six years, and may tire manufacturers recommend replacing tires that are 10 years old, regardless of treadwear. NHTSA also has established a tire information website where consumers can find important information about tire safety and maintenance.

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