The 1-Second Tire Test That Could Save Your Life

As it turns out, cell phones may not be the number one culprit when it comes to safe driving.

When you hear about staying safe behind the wheel, it is more likely to be an “it can wait” type of message regarding distracted driving than anything to do with tires. Of course texting while driving, applying makeup on your way to work, or reaching far into the backseat for your toddler’s lost toy while on the go is dangerous and should be avoided, but the raw data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) indicates that while over 3,200 Americans lost their life due to distracted driving in 2017, cellphone distractions behind the wheel accounted for just 457 deaths that same year. That number is only 61 percent of another cause: tire-related deaths of which there were 738. That’s right, tires are potentially more dangerous the cellphones. It’s true, tires are the most important car safety feature and testing their safety before hitting the road absolutely cannot wait.

Tires are important, both the air pressure inside and the tread on the outside

During National Teen Driver Safety Week, it was reported that of the accidents involving teens each year, a whopping 300,000 of them landed teenagers in emergency rooms to be treated for injuries sustained in their crashes. Eliminating distracted driving is one way to keep teens safe on the road, and out of the E.R. Another is ensuring you and your teens’ tires are safe. Thankfully, doing so is quick, easy and doesn’t cost a penny. Although for the best tire tread test, you will actually need a penny! Check out the tires auto experts put on their own cars.

What is the Penny Tread Test?

You can help prevent tire-related accidents, in your own car and your teenager’s vehicle too, by doing a one-second test on the tires. The “Penny Tread Test” is an easy, free test you can do by yourself right now with nothing more than a one-cent coin. The Penny Tread Test will quickly show you how good—or poor—the tread on your tires is, and help you know if it’s time to head to the mechanic. Checking your tires is only one of 9 brilliant use for your spare change.

How often should you do the Penny Tread Test?

It is recommended that you check the tread on your tires monthly. Thankfully, because the Penny Tread Test is self-administered, takes but a moment, and doesn’t cost anything, there is no excuse for ever driving with unsafe tires again.

Let Lincoln’s head be your guide

With just a penny between your thumb and pointer finger, angle Abraham Lincoln upside down, facing down toward the ground. Proceed to stick the penny into various places in the tread across all your tires. If you can see the top of Honest Abe’s head, it’s time to make an appointment to get your tires checked by an automotive pro, at your dealer or trusted local mechanic, and possibly time to get a brand-new set of tires.

What the penny says

If the penny featuring Abe Lincoln’s head doesn’t partially disappear into the tread of the tire it means the tread is worn down to the point that your tires may no longer be safe on the road. With just this simple, no-cost, DIY tire tread test you can ensure that you and every other driver in your family are in a car with tires that are safe to drive on.

Turn your penny into $100K

Michelin has launched the #PennyForAFreeRide contest for teens to win $100,000 towards college tuition costs. This contest is aimed to reward teens who take their safety on the road seriously, by providing them with a life-changing sum of money to pursue their dreams. To enter the contest, a teen will need to complete the Penny Tread Test and share it on social media with the appropriate hashtags. Here is some more basic car maintenance that every driver should know.

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Jeff Bogle
Jeff Bogle is an Iris Award-winning photographer, avid traveler, and English football fanatic who regularly covers travel, culture, cars, health, business, the environment, and more for Reader's Digest. Jeff has also written for Parents Magazine, Esquire, PBS, and Good Housekeeping, among other publications. He is the proud dad of teen daughters. You can follow his adventures on Instagram and Twitter @OWTK.