Photo by WCBS
The deadly bus accident in New York State tragically highlights a little-known threat to those traveling on buses. Preliminary reports suggest that the accident may have been caused by the blow-out of one of the front tires of the bus. A bus’s rear tires are usually double or dual tires. This adds to the tires’ surface area on the pavement to help with stability and braking while also preventing a catastrophic failure should one tire blow out suddenly. A bus’s front tires, however, are single and a failure of one of these tires—particularly when travelling at high speeds—can result in the bus swerving out of control. Sadly, this may have been the cause of yesterday’s loss of life.
Because the integrity of a bus’s tires is so critical to passenger safety, ensuring that high quality tires are used is essential. But bus tires are expensive, costing an average of $2,000 to $3,000 per tire. This expense is multiplied for organizations such as school districts which can be responsible for dozens of buses at any given time. Thus it is understandable that organizations may look to find tires at discounted prices to alleviate the financial burden on already cash-strapped entities. There is danger in the discount, however. NBC News has reported that discount tires—particularly those from manufacturing facilities in China—may not meet the standards of brand name tires. According to NBC’s reporting:
“Chinese-branded tires are a whole different world,” reported Car and Driver technical director Dave VanderWerp. “You absolutely get what you pay for, which, as we found in our test, is capability that is nothing short of scary. The Ling Longs in our test scored less than half the performance-based points than even the next-best, eighth-place tire. That’s how far they are off the pace.”
A similar accident to the New York crash occurred in North Carolina in 2016. On that occasion, a charter bus rented by a junior college football team suffered a blow-out to its left front tire resulting in a violent collision. Tragically, four people were killed and numerous others suffered serious injuries. Attorneys with our law firm were retained to represent one of the victims of this crash and an investigation of the cause of the tire failure began.
Our investigation of the tire’s failure quickly revealed that the tire was Chinese-made and did not meet the level of American-manufactured quality. In fact, the manufacturer admitted to as much in an affidavit provided to the federal government explaining why the Chinese company could offer tires so cheaply.
“[T]he low-cost Chinese tires being imported into the United States for sale are not a similar product to the higher price/higher value North American produced tires. The Chinese tires currently being imported for sale in the United States have substantially different levels of rolling resistance, treat design, fuel efficiency, noise reduction, ride quality, all-season performance, are composed of different rubber compounds, and have other construction differences (including but not limited to the North American imposition of uniformity specifications that are not commonly used in China) than the higher price/higher value North American produced tires. As a direct result of these differences in the product being offered, the Chinese tires can be and are offered at a lower price point.”
The Chinese company’s admission of the poor quality of its tires helped Chappell, Chappell & Newman settle a products liability claim against the tire manufacturer. But the successful outcome of the case did not erase the fact that four lives were lost and many others were badly impacted. Those equipping buses with tires should take care that tires of the highest quality are used. And those investigating the cause of bus tire blow-outs should investigate whether the search for a cheaper tire may have led to a substandard product.
Graham L. Newman, Esq.
Partner | Chappell, Chappell, & Newman