Last month, representatives of member states, the Commission and MEPs agreed a set of standards that would improve the energy efficiency of new tyres by around 20% by 2016. This would lead to a reduction in overall fuel consumption of around 3%.
This is close to what the Commission outlined last summer in its original proposal, but it falls well short of what T&E and other environmental groups say is possible for reducing fuel consumption and emissions. It also incorporated weak noise limits for lorry tyres, which would mean road noise levels continuing to rise for many residents living alongside Europe’s major roads.
Despite its disappointment, T&E recognised the limited progress that was being made. ‘We welcome this long-overdue change, but this is no revolution,’ said T&E policy officer Nina Renshaw.
‘More than half the tyres currently on sale already meet the standards that will be obligatory by 2016, which shows how much more could have been done if those responsible had been more ambitious and set standards that encourage further innovation.’
But in a full Parliamentary vote earlier this month, MEPs added a delay of 2-4 years before all tyres have to comply, followed by a further 30 months for existing tyres to be sold off by retailers.
‘The tyre industry has cynically exploited the current economic climate,’ Renshaw add- ed. ‘It has put strong pressure on MEPs to allow this delay. Ultimately it is their customers who will suffer. We are talking about technology that saves lives, saves money, and reduces impacts on health and the environment. Thanks to this vote, we may have to wait until 2023 to see the full effects.’
While the EU has focused a fair amount of attention on climate change and air pollution emissions from vehicles and engines, tyre performance has been largely untouched by EU legislation for nearly 40 years. T&E has led efforts to highlight the problem, both the health impact of avoidable noise suffered by 210 million Europeans every year, and the fact that fuel is being wasted because EU laws do not require low ‘rolling resistance’ or energy-saving tyres to be used.
The agreement sets noise standards for tyres, but these will make little difference to overall traffic noise. Although car tyres will have to be significantly quieter, lorry tyres will be largely unaffected.
Renshaw added: ‘People living alongside motorways will not notice any reduction in traffic noise, as around 90% of lorry tyres currently on sale already meet the new standards, and motorway noise is often dominated by trucks, especially at night time.’
The regulation that contains the new standards also makes obligatory the fitting of tyre pressure monitoring systems on new cars from 2012. Such systems warn drivers when tyres become underinflated to the point where they affect safety, and also tell them when reduced pressure in a tyre is harming fuel efficiency. The Commission estimates that half of cars on the road today drive with underinflated tyres.
An indicator that tells drivers what gear they should be in to optimise fuel efficiency will also become mandatory for new cars.