Hot weather can mean more tire “gators” on highways

Drivers should pay attention, be alert to possible tread debris

PHOENIX – The word likely makes you think of a state like Florida, but Arizona highway drivers should stay alert for “gators” on the highway, especially with summer upon us.

Tire Rubber picked up by highway worker after tire blowoutGator is the nickname given to tire treads that wind up on highways after blowouts, creating a risk for other drivers and their vehicles.

The Arizona Department of Transportation and state Department of Public Safety are reminding motorists to stay alert to tire treads or other debris that can wind up on highways. Drivers also should regularly check their vehicles’ tire pressure to reduce the risk of blowouts.

Whether DPS troopers toss tire gators to the shoulder or ADOT maintenance crews respond after getting a call, it’s impossible to catch everything immediately along more than 6,300 miles of state highways.

“We all need to pay attention and be prepared for debris at any time, but tire gators increase in number when the weather turns hot,” said Raul Amavisca, ADOT Central District engineering administrator for maintenance. “Our maintenance yard bins fill up with more rubber during the summer.”

DPS is often are the first line of defense against gators, conducting traffic breaks to temporarily stop traffic so troopers can toss tire debris to the shoulder of a freeway.

I-17 tire debris removed from shoulder near Black Canyon City area, May 22, 2018“We also get to see the damage a large piece of tire tread can inflict on another vehicle,” DPS Capt. Tony Mapp said. “These can be dangerous situations, which makes it so important to avoid distractions and keep an eye on the roadway out in front of you.”

ADOT crews do spot pickups of roadside shoulder debris along busy Phoenix-area freeways throughout the year. The agency’s freeway shoulder sweeping contractors also maintain weekly schedules for collecting larger debris items in advance of street sweepers finishing the cleaning job at night.

Maintaining proper tire pressure to limit the chances of creating a highway gator.

“You’re improving your odds, since over- or under-inflated tires are more likely to suffer blowouts,” Captain Mapp said. “It’s worth it to take the time to check your tire pressure.”