Tire tracks are the impressions left by tires on the surface onto which a vehicle drove. Not all tires and all surfaces will leave tire tracks. If the surface is soft or semi-soft, such as mud, dirt, or snow, the tire will leave an imprint under the weight of the vehicle. If the surface is hard, such as road pavement, the tire might still leave a trace, if dirt or dust was present. As with other traces such as fingerprints or shoeprints , tire tracks are extremely important in forensic investigations. They enable identification of the vehicle that left them. Tire tracks are usually found in road accident scenes or in the access and escape routes of other crime scenes.
Tires are made of semi-hard rubber and are characterized by class and individual characteristics. Class characteristics include size and general patterns. Individual characteristics include regular wear and tear as well as accidental cuts or holes. These characteristics may be reproduced in the tracks left by the tire, depending on the surface and the circumstances under which the track occurred.
When tire tracks are present at a crime scene or in the immediate vicinity, one must properly observe and record them. First, they need to be photographed at a 90-degree angle. This allows for a permanent record of their class and individual characteristics. Then, the tracks are carefully measured. Not only it is important to note the width, but also the circumference of the tire, if the lengths permit it. In addition, if multiple tire tracks from the different wheels of the vehicle are present, it is important to make as many measurements as possible in order to determine the toe (the distance between the front of the tires and the rear of the tires on the same axle) and turning radius of the vehicle. Finally, if the tracks are present in relief, it is also possible to make a cast from it. Usually, plaster of Paris is used and, if the whole track cannot be cast, the most pertinent spot is cast.
Once the general size and pattern of the track is determined, it is possible to consult a database of tires to determine the brand and model of the tire that left the impression. In addition, there are also databases that list which tires are installed from the factory on which vehicles. Finally, with the dimensions of the vehicle, it is also possible to determine which vehicle could have left the tracks.
Recent advances in technology and research allow for the characterization of tire tracks by chemical analysis of the rubber. Based on Locard's Exchange Principle , if a tire leaves rubber residues on the surface, as is the case with skid marks, crime scene investigators can collect these traces and compare them with the tires from a suspected vehicle. The result of this analysis is not as powerful as having individual characteristics that will identify the exact tire, but it adds one more piece of information to the investigation.
see also Accident reconstruction; Automobile accidents; Casting; Locard's exchange principle.