By Jordan W. Charness
It’s amazing what you can learn at the checkout aisle. They have all those neat items that they want you to buy: impulse purchases, like magazines, periodicals and little review books. I’m always bored waiting in line and given the choice I’d rather not flip through women’s magazines. One checkout line, however, had a book that piqued my interest. It was a book that reviewed used cars and gave their current values.
I quickly flipped to the section that reviewed my SUV. The current value for the vehicle was pretty much what I expected. It only lost $4,000 in value in the two years that I had owned it – all in all, not a bad investment. More to the point the reviews on the car itself were generally positive. It did make a big deal however, about the fact that the dealer-equipped tires were substandard. This was being kind. Other reviewers of the same car had called the original manufacturer’s tires “poor quality”.
This being my second winter with these all-season tires I had to concur with the reviewers’ assessments. Nonetheless, I’m generally in favor of all season tires. As long as they are changed frequently, they can provide reasonable traction.
Some provinces are looking into the idea of passing a law requiring the installation of winter tires for the winter season – others have already passed such legislation. Since winter tires undoubtedly work better in the winter the argument goes that there would be a reduction in accidents if all cars were equipped with these types of tires.
By definition, all-season tires are a compromise. Their composition is such that they provide reasonable traction and performance in all types of weather. Tires specifically designed for winter’s snow and ice conditions will perform significantly better under those conditions than all-season tires will. But will they actually reduce the number of collisions in the winter? If so, by how much?
Our laws tend to be reactive. The lawmakers try to pass laws to deal with today’s situations. Unfortunately the process of, drafting studying and passing a law is a lengthy one, so the laws that are passed today are often based on yesterday’s story. The snow tires debate has been around for a long time. The fact that snow tires perform better in winter than all-season tires has been a known fact since the invention of all-season tires a few decades ago.
The fact of the matter is that accidents are generally caused by drivers and not by their cars or tires. Although driving summer tires in the winter is both illegal and stupid, driving all-season tires in the winter is legal and a reasonable thing to do depending on where you are actually driving.
If you normally drive up North or on poorly maintained secondary and tertiary roads you would be well advised to install snow tires for the winter season. However if you normally drive in the city or on the highway you could be expected to safely use all-season tires as long as you modify your driving to reflect the slippery winter conditions and the less-than-perfect traction that your all-season tires provide. Driving slower, keeping your distance and never intentionally driving in icy conditions will significantly reduce the number of winter accidents.
Before ordering everyone to install winter tires, the government might look into the fact that citizens in Canada have a reasonable right to expect that their roads be cleaned and clear of snow and ice. I would be willing to wager that the accident rate would go down in direct proportion to the speed at which our roads are cleaned. Clearing them right down to the pavement without waiting for the month of June would also have a marked effect on the accident rate.
A good set of winter tires can easily cost $800, which is an additional expense that many people can ill afford. A cheap and lousy set of winter tires will not be much of an improvement over all-season tires.
Who’ll be in charge of administering the verification of everyone’s car to make sure that it complies with an eventual winter tire law? The police are already overburdened.
A law that requires us to install winter tires will probably lead to people driving on winter tires that are long past their prime. Tire companies may also designate tires as “Winter” when in reality their treads are no better than all-season tires. The average driver would not know the difference.
All in all, a snow tire law is a law that is better in theory than in practice and one that should be put back on the back burner where it belongs.