Tread Lightly: Worn Tires Put Drivers at Risk

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Afternoon downpours can spell disaster for motorists as worn tires increase stopping distance.
New research from AAA reveals that driving on relatively worn tires at highway speeds in wet conditions can increase average stopping distances by a staggering 43 percent when compared to new tires. The increased stopping distance -- an average of 87 feet -- is more than the length of a semi-trailer truck.
“With nearly 800,000 crashes occurring on wet roads each year, AAA urges drivers to check tread depth, replace tires proactively and increase following distances significantly during rainy conditions,” said Gene LaDoucer, North Dakota spokesman for AAA-The Auto Club Group.
In partnership with the Automobile Club of Southern California’s Automotive Research Center, AAA conducted testing to understand performance differences at highway speeds between new all-season tires and those worn to a tread depth of 4/32” on wet pavement. AAA research found that:

“AAA’s testing demonstrates the impact tire tread has on safety,” said Megan McKernan, manager of the Automobile Club of Southern California’s Automotive Research Center. “If tested side-by-side at 60 mph, vehicles with worn tires would still be traveling at an alarming 40 mph when reaching the same distance it takes for vehicles with new tires to make a complete stop.”

While AAA’s research found that tire performance does vary by brand, price is not necessarily an indicator of quality. In fact, worn tire performance deteriorated significantly for all tires tested, including those at a higher price point. AAA advises shoppers to research options carefully before selecting a replacement tire for their vehicle, and never choose.
Current industry guidelines and state laws and regulations frequently recommend drivers wait until tread depth reaches 2/32” to replace tires. Not only does this recommendation jeopardize a driver’s safety, it minimizes manufacturer warranty costs and is often paired with environmental concerns, according to AAA. By prioritizing safety, AAA maintains that tires should be replaced once the tread depth reaches 4/32”, when stopping distances have already begun to deteriorate significantly.
AAA’s comprehensive evaluation of tire tread laws and regulations across U.S. states found state requirements range from inadequate to non-existent. There is currently no standard for tread depth in North Dakota. In Minnesota tires are considered unsafe when tread depth is less than 2/32”.
AAA Tire Tips:

In wet conditions, tires can completely lose contact with the road and skid, also known as hydroplaning. The depth of a tire’s tread plays a significant role: the lower the tread depth, the more likely a car will hydroplane.
Wet Road Precautions:

The full report, fact sheet and other information regarding this study can be found on the AAA Newsroom.

AAA helps take the guesswork out of finding a trusted repair shop with its Approved Auto Repair (AAR) facilities.  Each AAR facility must adhere to a stringent set of standards for certifications, technical training, cleanliness, insurance requirements, and customer service set forth by AAA. Shops with the AAR designation signal to drivers a vetted facility, inspected annually, that will offer fair pricing and quality service. To locate an AAR facility, drivers can visit Additionally, AAA also offers a free repair cost calculator, also found at, that provides drivers the ability to estimate the cost of a repair or to verify a quote received for their vehicle.