How Can Over-Inflated and Under-Inflated Tires Cause an Accident?

Published on Nov 23, 2021 at 11:18 am in Car Accidents.

Car tire

In this article, we hope to initiate more discussion about a very important but often over-looked vehicle safety issue—tire pressure. As Mississippi car accident lawyers with decades of experience representing motor vehicle crash victims, we have witnessed time and again the devastating effects that poor vehicle maintenance can have on people’s lives. This is especially true for improper tire maintenance—the mechanical issue most likely to cause a fatal crash. After learning more about how over-inflated and under-inflated tires can cause car accidents, we invite to reach out to our law firm with any further questions regarding auto safety and Mississippi car accident law.

What Happens If Your Tires Are Over-Inflated?

Over-inflated tires are inflexible, rigid, at high risk of damage, and dangerous. When a tire is over-inflated, the shape is distorted and the center line of the tire protrudes disproportionately. When the tire’s center line is the main or only part of the tire making contact with the road surface, this means that the tread is not working as it should, your car’s ability to brake properly is compromised, and the tire’s structure is in danger of being irreversibly damaged. Under normal circumstances, hitting minor bumps and small road debris might not be a problem, but on over-inflated tires highly vulnerable to damage, there is risk of a blowout.

While damage to the tire should be a concern to drivers, it’s even more important to remember that over-inflated tires also increase the odds of getting into a car accident. Drivers asking if it’s dangerous to drive with over-inflated tires should know that there are severe safety concerns associated with driving on over-inflated tires. Although driving occasionally on slightly over-inflated tires is unlikely to result in major problems, extremely over-inflated tires are a serious safety hazard.

The following safety issues are ones most likely to result from severely over-inflated tires:

  • Distorted tire shape leading to loss of steering control
  • Decreased traction leading to slipping
  • Heightened risk of tire blowout
  • Diminished overall vehicle control
  • Altered braking distances and difficulty braking
  • Anti-lock braking system (ABS) failure
  • Increased wear on the tire leading to quicker wear-out time
  • Bumpy, uncomfortable, and distracting driving experience

If your routes involve unpaved roads, areas of gravel, snow, ice, or other conditions affecting the smoothness of the road surface, maintaining appropriately-inflated tires is especially important to the safety of your commute. But no matter what type of road you’re driving, proper tire pressure is one of the basic elements of auto safety.

What Happens If Your Tires Are Under-Inflated?

On the other hand, driving with under-inflated tires can also lead to safety issues and long-term vehicle damage. It’s never a good idea to drive more than very short distances on tires that are under-inflated. In most newer cars, the tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) light on the dashboard will warn you when your tire pressure is too low. When you notice the light come on, it’s best to fix the issue as soon as possible to avoid the dangers of driving on under-inflated tires.

But what can happen if your tires are under-inflated? When tire pressure is lower than it should be, the vehicle driver will experience decreased handling ability and other symptoms. Because the tires are not providing an adequate cushion around the wheels of the vehicle, there will be greater strain on the rims and axles, increased friction, poor braking function, and decreased steering capability. The following issues frequently accompany under-inflated tires:

  • Faster tread breakdown
  • More friction leading to overheating and possible blowout
  • Unresponsive steering
  • Damage to rims or axles
  • Higher rolling resistance leading to reduced fuel economy
  • Difficulty braking and unusually long stopping distances
  • A flapping or smacking sound while driving as the loose tire hits the road

If your car’s tire pressure is getting low, you might not observe any major changes in the way your vehicle handles. But you could notice some minor signs of low tire pressure, including sluggishness, a feeling of being closer to the ground, or getting lower gas mileage than usual. If you notice these symptoms, check your tire pressure to make sure you are within the recommended range for your vehicle.

What’s the Recommended Tire Pressure?

So how do you know if your tires are over-inflated or under-inflated? What is considered good tire pressure? Not every vehicle has the same recommended tire pressure. Your vehicle manufacturer will provide basic tire pressure specifications. These can usually be located in the vehicle owner’s manual, as well as on a decal inside the door beside the driver’s seat. The appropriate pressure for a tire can vary depending on whether it is a front or rear tire, how much weight the vehicle is carrying, and what purpose the vehicle is used for. Reach out to your auto mechanic if you have questions about the recommended tire pressure for your vehicle.

The AAA advises vehicle owners to follow these best practices for tire inflation safety:

  • Check tire pressure no less than once a month, weekly if possible
  • Always re-check tire pressure before embarking on an extended trip
  • Check tire pressure when the vehicle is at rest, not after a drive when the tires are still hot
  • Keep a high-quality tire pressure gauge (dial or digital) on hand
  • Rotate your tires regularly as specified by the vehicle manufacturer

Depending on the type of vehicle you drive, you may need to slightly increase the tire pressure when preparing to tow a trailer or haul a heavy load. Make sure to check the recommendations of your vehicle manufacturer before using your car or truck for a heavy-duty task like towing or hauling.

How Many Accidents Are Caused by Bad Tires?

According to the most recent research conducted by the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), vehicle equipment and maintenance failures account for about 6% of commercial truck accident deaths and about 3% of car accident fatalities. Of these equipment and maintenance failures, “tire factors” was listed as the most frequent cause of accidents.

Human errors like speeding, drunk driving, and other commonly-broken traffic laws are the most frequent cause of vehicle collisions and accident fatalities. This is especially true in the era of increased recklessness on the roads that has begun since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mechanical failure or misfunction due to negligent maintenance practices can also be considered a human-related accident cause. When vehicle owners do not take the care necessary to maintain their cars or trucks to the safest working order, there can be serious consequences to drivers, passengers, pedestrians, motorcyclists, and bicyclists alike.

In addition to over-inflated and under-inflated tires, these are some of the top mechanical failures leading to car accidents:

  • Worn out brake pads
  • Engine failure
  • Infrequently-changed oil
  • Tires with worn-out tread
  • Broken headlights or taillights
  • Faulty windshield wipers causing poor visibility
  • Rusted mufflers and other loose parts that can fail or drop off in traffic
  • Inadequate or leaking steering fluid

The prevalence of car accidents caused by mechanical failures like these is especially discouraging because of how easily these accidents can be prevented. Individuals and families who are injured because of another vehicle owner’s negligence have the option to speak with a car accident lawyer about what to do next. We at Pittman, Roberts & Welsh, PLLC offer free legal consultations to accident victims looking to learn more about what can be done following a collision caused by another driver.  We invite you to reach out to begin a discussion about how we may be able to represent you.

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