Canadians use common sense and logic to dress for the weather. It is unusual, and just plain wrong, to be wearing sandals in January. These lightweight shoes are not designed to be worn in winter. They are not warm or waterproof, nor do they grip the walking surface. It comes as no surprise to learn that shoe traction is related to falling. If sandals in wintertime make no sense, shouldn’t the same logic apply to your tires?
Statistics prove that Canadian roads can be treacherous in winter. In 2014, Albertans were involved in over 144,700 collisions. In these crashes, 18,745 people were injured and 369 people were killed. The highest number of collisions occurred during the winter months. Slush, snow or ice was involved in 18 per cent of fatal collisions and 24 per cent of non-fatal injury collisions.
Winter crashes are often linked to losing control of the vehicle. The type of tire plays a role in maintaining control. Yet only 28 per cent of drivers in Alberta say they use winter tires. Compare this to 98 per cent of drivers in Quebec, where winter tires are required by law.
Tire companies say that unless your tires have a mountain with a snowflake symbol on them, they are not meant for winter road conditions and temperatures. They assert that summer and all-season tires lack the tread pattern and material composition of good winter tires. Is this just a marketing ploy, or do winter tires really make a difference?
Transport Canada - Winter Tire Safety Tips
Several countries in Europe, including Sweden, Finland and Romania, have winters as harsh as those in Canada. They were first to adopt winter tire legislation. In Sweden, winter tires became mandatory in 1999. In the first two years after the legislation, the number of collisions in the winter months was reduced by 11 to 14 per cent. This meant fewer injuries and deaths.
Quebec was the first jurisdiction in North America, and the only province or territory in Canada, to make using winter tires mandatory. After adopting this legislation in 2008, the number of collisions dropped by 17 per cent. In the two years that followed, the number of deaths or serious injuries was reduced by 36 per cent compared to the previous five years. Winter tire use increased from 84 per cent to 98 per cent.
Proper tires are just one part of safe winter driving. We know that using them reduces the number of crashes. Other key influences include human factors like driving ability and speed, and environmental factors such as road design and maintenance.
Future studies exploring the effect of using winter tires may justify different legislation. Until laws change, the decision is up to you. When winter arrives, it makes sense to put your sandals away and don winter boots. Shouldn’t the same logic apply to your car?