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Highways England is undertaking live tests of a technology that could help reduce commercial vehicle tyre failures by 75% on the country’s strategic road network (SRN) – improving safety and cutting the economic cost caused by delays because of tyre-related incidents.

Having first assessed a pilot installation of WheelRight’s drive-over tyre management system at Keele Services (M6 southbound), Highways England – which operates England’s major A roads and motorway network – is now running year-long tests of the technology with:

This important research has received funding from Highways England Designated Fund for Innovation. Announced today (30.04.19) at the annual Commercial Vehicle Show at Birmingham’s NEC, the three pilot tests are already demonstrating tangible value for the organisations involved.

Installed at each location during February 2019, the UK-developed tyre inspection system is already proving its significant potential as a fleet management tool within the HGV sector and assisting enforcement.

The technology is a drive over tyre pressure, tyre tread and vehicle weighing system. As drivers approach the sensors, an ANPR (automatic number plate recognition) camera reads and records the vehicle registration and a second camera photographs the vehicle.

The purpose of the equipment is to provide information to the driver or the fleet or transport manager, and not to say whether the vehicle is or is not roadworthy.

Why tyre safety is important

Data released by Highways England last year* confirmed that almost three quarters of commercial vehicle motorway incidents caused by tyre failure could be prevented if fleets carried out simple, regular checks on tyre condition. Better tyre management would also reduce casualties caused by tyre failures on England’s motorway network every year.

Between 1 April 2015 to 31 August 2016, 58,612 tyre related breakdown incidents were recorded on the strategic road network. Of these, 20,007 (34%) involved commercial vehicles.

Preliminary test results – John Lewis and AW Jenkinson

Initial feedback from pilot participants such as John Lewis Partnership’s depot at Magna Park, Milton Keynes is very positive.

Garry Burns, manager of primary transport at John Lewis Partnership, said: “We’ve had the WheelRight system in place for several months now. The reporting information is very clear and gives us all the information about the state of our tyres. It’s going really well and the drivers have bought into it too. In our opinion, it’s an important piece of kit to have. I’d like to see it in more of our sites.”

Echoing this sentiment, Tony Pratt, shunter driver at the Milton Keynes depot, added: “From a user’s point of view, it’s hardly there – you just drive over. As a piece of technology, it’s just incredible that something can measure the tyre pressure and tread depth in the time it takes to drive over the kit – and inform the office before you get there!”

National transport business AW Jenkinson reports similarly encouraging results from its adoption of the system at its Penrith location.

Ian McGregor, head of fleet management at AW Jenkinson Transport, said: “So far, the system has been very beneficial to us. Having the tyre pressure feature alone is a major plus, because we can catch any issues at source; so trucks aren’t going down the road with faulty tyres –potentially causing a lot of problems.

“The temperature monitoring of the hubs gives us warning if there is a caliper sticking or a wheel bearing on its way out. And tread depth obviously speaks for itself – it’s all- important to a well-run fleet.”

In the first six weeks of operation over 50,000 tyres were checked automatically at any time, day or night, without stopping any vehicle, or manually touching a tyre or valve. In one location the number of tyres with pressures over 20% below the nominal pressure was cut by 85%. Tyres with pressures exceeding 50% below the nominal pressure were also automatically identified and reported. Tyres with tread depth close to the legal limit were also identified

Preliminary results – DVSA vehicle check site

Located just off the M62 motorway, the DVSA’s vehicle check site in Cuerden is central to the agency’s objective to identify faulty HGVs and take them off the highway if necessary.

Prior to its adoption of the WheelRight system, DVSA inspectors relied largely on visual checks and manual gauges to measure tyre tread depths and pressures. Having piloted the integrated tyre inspection technology, this complex task is now completely automated.

Commenting on the DVSA trial, Highways England’s incident prevention team leader, John Walford, said: “There has been really positive feedback from the inspectors at Cuerden. The WheelRight technology has provided the opportunity for the inspectors to check more tyres and hence increase the efficiency of the check site. This means that DVSA can check more HGVs and take more potentially unsafe vehicles off the strategic road network.”

What is driving the pilot tests?

John Walford said: “Our pilot tests with John Lewis, AW Jenkinson and the DVSA, funded through our Designated Fund for Innovation, are designed to demonstrate the value of the technology. These initial results are great to see.

“Investing in and using technology is part of our long-term strategy to reduce the number of people killed and seriously injured on our roads. Reducing these tyre related issues also increases fleets operational efficiency by drastically cutting the number of emergency roadside call-outs seen by UK fleets.”

Economic impact

The economic impact of tyre blowouts is considerable. Highways England calculates that the cost of closing a motorway for 15 minutes to remove debris costs up to £ 30,000 and the cost of closing two lanes on a motorway for just two hours after an incident is more than £130,000.

For fleets, the cost of an emergency roadside call-out is significant. While the estimated cost to businesses ranges from £500 – £5,000, the loss of reputation (in the case of failed deliveries) and even human life (in the case of fatal incidents) is incalculable.

John Catling, chief executive of WheelRight, said: “Highways England should be commended for its active support of our UK-developed technology which is set to revolutionise the way fleets monitor and manage their tyres. These three pilots put the UK at the forefront of the transport industry, setting new safety standards that other road management bodies and transport planners across the globe will be keen to adopt.”

What the technology does

Based on worldwide patented technology, the WheelRight system comprises a set of high-intensity strobe lights, all-weather cameras and drive-over pressure instruments installed at the transport depot – all collecting huge amounts of data within seconds.

This information is then analysed to provide actionable results instantly to the driver and/or fleet manager. Daily and weekly reports include easily digestible data on:

  • Tyre pressures (pass or fail based on predetermined levels)
  • Tread depths (pass or fail based on specified levels)
  • Tyre temperatures (early identification of problem tyres or wheels)
  • Tyre condition (via a 360 degree photographic image of the tread)
  • Weigh-in-Motion data / axle weights

While cameras and ANPR (automatic number plate recognition) confirm the identification of each tractor unit, trailers are recognised by the system using RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags. The high quality of proven data this creates allows fleet managers to gain complete control of their fleet’s tyres, spotting trends and potential problems before they happen. WheelRight has developed a sophisticated web interface which provides fleet managers 24/7 access to every element of their fleet’s tyre health.

A call to action

Highways England is urging HGV fleets in England to recognise the opportunity provided by technology to improve tyre management. Already being adopted by the most forward-thinking HGV fleets in the UK and overseas, Highways England is supporting several operators to install the technology at their depots to demonstrate how powerful the system is.

“It’s a proven technology that fleet managers really need to test out for themselves. In just a few months, drivers and fleet managers from John Lewis, AW Jenkinson and the DVSA are already seeing the positive impact this system is having on their tyre management and inspection. It’s making our roads safer, reducing operational costs and improving fleet efficiencies in one fell swoop,” said John Walford.

John Catling added: “I am confident that once fleet operators see the benefits of the technology, they’ll never go back to unreliable, manual tyre checking.”

More information
View the Highways England and tyre company Bridgestone’s 2016/17 study

About Highways England
Highways England is the wholly government-owned company responsible for modernising, maintaining and operating England’s motorways and major A roads.

If you are a journalist, with an enquiry for Highways England, please contact the Highways England press office on 0844 693 1448 (select Option 1 for the corporate press team).

About WheelRight
WheelRight is a UK-based technology business that is leading the way in the digitisation of tyre management solutions. With headquarters in Oxford, the company’s technology is being adopted by both car and truck drivers in the UK, Germany, USA and Far East. Working with Highways England, the business commenced a series of pilot studies in 2019 with John Lewis Partnership, AW Jenkinson and the DVSA.

With approximately 6bn tyres on the world’s roads at any time (Statistics 2015), big data analysis is fundamental to WheelRight’s skill set. Having worked closely with some of the UK’s top universities to develop its unique monitoring and analytical tools, the company sees a bright future in the insights it can bring to vehicle manufacturers, tyre companies, transport strategists and city planners.

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