Alastair Starke/the Gauntlet

Mind Fights: Should winter tires be mandatory?

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I am not a psychic, nor a time traveler from the future. I don't own a crystal ball or know anyone who does. And yet, I am 100 per cent certain in the prophecy I am about to share with you: on the morning after the temperature drops substantially and the first good dump of snow falls, the streets of this fine city will become a labyrinth of twisted metal and broken glass. Undoubtedly, this annual ritual is experienced in many other cities across Canada, but this year, one province is doing its best to terminate the tradition.Quebec has passed a law mandating the use of winter tires from the middle of December through the middle of March, under penalty of a $200-$300 fine. The province estimates 90 per cent of Quebeckers already use winter tires and notes that the remaining 10 per cent are involved in a disproportionate 38 per cent of winter accidents. A study by the Quebec Ministry of Transportation found that winter tires stopped over 12 metres sooner than the misleading "all-season" tires at a speed of 50 kilometres per hour and temperature of-20 C, in most types of vehicles. Even cars with four-wheel-drive stopped seven metres sooner with winter tires.

Admittedly a new set of winter tires will cost you upwards of $800 and I'm sure you can think of a thing or two you'd rather spend that money on. However, before you conclude that I'm a fool for the position I'm arguing and go blow your money elsewhere, consider the following. One at fault collision is probably going to cost you a $1,000 deductible. So, if winter tires can prevent even one collision on your behalf, they have paid for themselves. Then, come spring, you will be able to switch back to your other tires. Both sets will experience half the wear and will need to be replaced at a less regular interval-- saving you more money yet.

But this isn't really about money, it's about safety. We've all seen a car attempting to stop too late, sliding through an intersection or crosswalk. In many cases a bit of honking, perhaps the shaking of a fist and a sheepish look on the face of the driver/slider will be the worst that will come of it. Other times, someone is not so lucky. When someone is crossing the street the seven to 12 metres winter tires provide can be all the difference in the world. Even if you're the best driver around, there is no alternative to a tire designed for winter traction.

It would be ideal if this issue could be resolved without government intervention. Ultimately though, they are the ones who end up footing the bill when accidents occur-- on police accident investigations and related health-care fees. If we as drivers were responsible enough to install winter tires voluntarily, there would be no need for the government to get involved. As it currently stands, however, mandating winter tires is something the other provincial governments can learn from Quebec.


There is no denying that winter tires are far safer than all-seasons for winter driving. Their added performance in snow, slush and ice provide a wider margin of safety that could benefit each and every motor vehicle user. However, mandating their use in the name of safety is misplaced when other improvements are needed in Alberta's transportation safety regulation system.

Sweden is just one of many European countries that mandate the use of winter tires. While it is easy to suggest that Alberta should follow the example of our Nordic motoring brethren-- we do after all drive in very similar conditions-- a closer look reveals that their use of winter tires is actually last in a long line of transportation regulations geared towards safety. Getting a licence in Sweden is a long process including mandatory training on slippery conditions. Called the Halkbana, this includes a minimum of four hours of theoretical and practical instruction on how to handle a vehicle in low traction situations.

In contrast, Albertans only get tested on the theory of car control by memorizing key tips. Not only are these tips the bare minimum when safety is at stake, they are also quite dangerous without practical application to provide context. For instance, the Ministry of Transportation Driving handbook advises easing up on the throttle in a skid. In fact, depending on the drivetrain configuration, the deft application of power can aid in skid recovery. As well, it suggests easing off the brake pedal while skidding under braking, but that would be the wrong move for ABS equipped vehicles, since these systems require a firm foot in order to function effectively.

Other inadequacies in the transportation regulatory system that need to be addressed prior to making the use of winter tires mandatory involve the laws governing tires in general. Quebec, the first province to make winter tires mandatory, does not make provisions for the unique construction that makes these tires function in the first place. Transports Quebec applies the same law to winter tires concerning the minimum allowable tread depth for summer and all-season radials, stating the "depth of the tire tread or main groove must not be less than 1.6 millimetres." Winter tires, however, are constructed differently. In addition to utilizing unique rubber compounds, tires designed for snow and ice are equipped with small grooves called sipes which enable the tread to remain pliable in freezing conditions. These sipes are usually cut shallower than the main tread channels of a tire which means that these would be practically gone by the time the tire is shaved down to 1.6 millimetres of tread depth, negating one advantage that winter tires offer over all-seasons.

In the end, winter tires only address one aspect of improving traffic safety when only 15.4 per cent of fatal collisions and only 21 per cent of non-fatal collisions that occurred Alberta in 2007 were directly attributable to slush, snow or ice. That the majority of traffic collisions occur on dry roads is an indication that improvements in other areas concerning traffic safety must first be addressed before implementing such a law.





"The Ministry of Transportation Driving handbook advises easing up on the throttle in a skid."

That was supposed to read: "The Ministry of Transportation Driving handbook advises easing up on the throttle on a CORNERING skid."

Cornering is the a key word, hence why I think this province does a disservice by telling someone to 'ease up' on the throttle in a drift. You never tell someone to do something that could upset the car more when it's already on a slide.