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Drivers with defective tyres stand a far greater chance of escaping penalty points than someone using a phone at the wheel.

That is essentially the claim made today following the publication of new research.

It shows that while 350,000 cars are estimated to have illegally low tread depths, only 450 drivers – or 13 a month – have been penalised in three years.

The penalty-point regime for tyres began in May 2016.

Now, the latest study of research by Continental Tyres shows only 3,260 tyre penalty notices – including tread depth as well as other defects – have been issued.

That is a total of 90 a month over the three years. Compare that with nearly 5,000 notices for mobile phone use for January and February alone this year.

It is claimed that the safety implications for road users are “concerning” and that tyres need to be treated in a similar manner to the phone-at-the-wheel blitz.

The analysis was carried out as part of Continental Tyre group’s Vision Zero long-term initiative to reduce accidents through tyre technologies and automotive systems.

Cynics are entitled to say the analysis is merely being used as a tool to sell more new tyres. But if the figures are to be believed, there is a safety issue at play alongside commercial concerns.

Tom Dennigan, of Continental Tyres Ireland, said that considering the importance of tyre condition for road safety, it is “very concerning” to see the low level of enforcement.

He said his company’s studies consistently show an average one-in-six cars are being driven with at least one tyre’s tread depth below the minimum legal level of 1.6mm.

That would equate to around 350,000 cars being illegally driven “on dangerously worn tyres”.

He claims that is backed up by what tyre dealers are telling it.

For example, John Whelan, of JW Tyres in Ballon, Co Carlow, and Barry Monaghan, of Donegal Tyres, say they see a high number of cars with tyres that would fall foul of the tyre-related penalty points if a garda checked them.

According to Mr Dennigan, its findings echo those of many others in the trade who say such cars are like “ticking timebombs”.

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