Tyres fitted to vehicles in the UK must have a minimum tread of 1.6mm across the central three quarters of the tyre. Driving with bald tyres carries three penalty points. A new law was also introduced in 2020. This makes it illegal to use tyres more than 10 years old on certain HGVs, buses, coaches and minibuses.

Motoring defence solicitors

If you have been accused of driving with old or defective tyres and you would like legal advice, speak to our motor offence solicitors. We can advise whether or not you have a defence, or whether you could save your licence from a totting up ban. Contact us now for a free initial enquiry.

What is the legal requirement for tyre tread in the UK?

The legal requirement for tyre tread in the UK is 1.6mm across the central three quarters of the tyres. You can tell how much tread is left on your tyres using the tread wear indicators. These are found in the grooves of the tyre. They are also known as wear bars.

It is your responsibility as the owner/driver to check that your vehicle’s tyres are legal. Most manufacturers recommend changing your tyres when they reach 3mm of tread. After this, the vehicle’s stopping distance increases significantly, particularly in wet weather.

You are also responsible for checking that your tyres do not have any other defects or damage. A tear that is larger than 10% of the tyre’s width, or tyres with their ply or cord exposed, are not road legal. It is also illegal to fit tyres with different construction types to opposite sides of the same axle. For instance, you could not fit a radial tyre and a cross-ply tyre to opposite sides of your rear axle.

What is the lowest legal limit for tyre tread?

The lowest legal limit for tyre tread in the UK is 1.6mm across the central three quarters of the tyres. If you are caught driving a vehicle with a tyre tread of less than 1.6mm, you will be accused of driving with ‘bald’ or ‘defective’ tyres.

How many points will I get for bald tyres?

You will get three penalty points for driving with a bald or defective tyre. You may also be given a fine of up to £2,500.

Penalty points can be awarded for each defective tyre. So, if you have four bald tyres, then you risk getting 12 penalty points (three penalty points each). You cannot have 12 or more points on your licence at once. This means that if you are charged for having four defective tyres, then you could get an automatic totting up ban.

The rules are different for new drivers. If you passed your test within the last two years, then you cannot have six or more points on your licence.

Is there a defence to driving with bald tyres?

The only defence to driving with bald tyres is to prove that the tyres were not actually defective. To do this, we recommend taking photos of the tyres as soon as the police charge you. Then, take your vehicle to a garage as soon as possible and ask them to confirm the tyre tread. Without this kind of evidence, the court will likely believe what the police say, even if they inspected your tyres in the dark or by the roadside.

Alternatively, you may be able to plead special reasons. This is not a defence, as such. Instead, you are saying that you are technically guilty of driving with bald tyres, but only because you had to. The reason must be compelling – for example, there was a life-or-death emergency or you were fleeing from danger. If you can prove this, the court may be persuaded to drop the three penalty points.

Can I avoid a totting up ban?

If you are given penalty points for driving with defective tyres, then you may end up with 12 or more points on your licence. When this happens, the DVLA automatically gives you a driving ban for at least six months. There are different rules for new drivers who passed their test in the last two years. New drivers cannot have six or more points on their licence.

The only way to avoid a totting up ban is to either contest the charge (which in this case is driving with defective tyres) or to plead exceptional hardship.

If you successfully contest the charge, then you will avoid getting more penalty points, meaning you do not reach that crucial 12-point limit.

If you plead exceptional hardship, then you are asking the court not to ban you on the basis that it would cause you, your family or your community exceptional hardship. This is more than an inconvenience. You must be able to show that others rely on your ability to drive, and a driving ban would cause them to suffer.

Read more: What is a Totting Up Ban and Can I Do Anything About It?

What are the new tyre laws in the UK?

New motoring laws were introduced in England and Wales on 1 February 2021. The Construction and Use Regulations make it illegal to use tyres aged over 10 years old on front steered axles of:

  • HGVs
  • Buses
  • Coaches
  • All single wheels fitted to a minibus with 9 to 16 passenger seats

The manufacturer’s date code must be legible on all tyres fitted to HGVs, trailers over 3.5 tonnes, buses, coaches and minibuses. If a tyre is a retread, then the manufacturer date is taken from when the retread was carried out.

Will I be reported to the Traffic Commissioner for old tyres?

If a vehicle is found to have tyres 10 years or older during a Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) enforcement check, then it will get an ‘S’ marked prohibition notice. The DVSA has said that it will then follow up with the vehicle operator to ensure that the tyres have been changed. If the operator cannot prove that they have adequately managed their tyres since the inspection, the DVSA will refer them to the Traffic Commissioner.

If the manufacturer date code is not visible, the vehicle will fail the annual test. Where there are signs of deterioration on the tyre, then it will attract an ‘S’ marked prohibition notice, even if the manufacturer date cannot be seen.

Can I use old tyres on historic vehicles?

However, the 2021 regulations do not apply to non-commercial vehicles aged 40 years and older. Even so, owners of historic vehicles should get the tyres regularly inspected and replaced if required.

Expert legal advice from a motoring defence solicitor

If you have been accused of driving with bald, ageing or defective tyres, you might want to get legal advice about your options. If so, we are on hand to help. Our motoring defence solicitors are highly experienced and can advise you further.

If you accept that your tyres were defective in some way, then it may be better to take the points. However, you could fight a totting up ban, if the penalty points tip you over the 12-point limit (or six points, if you are a new driver). We can help you with this.

If you disagree with the police/DVSA assessment, then you will need to gather evidence to prove your case. Again, this is something that we can help you with. We can also represent you throughout proceedings, arguing your case in court.

The best way forward depends on your individual circumstances. Contact us at Ashmans Solicitors to discuss your case in more detail.

Call us on 0333 009 6275. We are available to take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

You can also email us on enquiries@ashmanssolicitors.com or complete our Free Online Enquiry Form and we’ll be in touch soon.