Ontarians Debate Wisdom of Mandatory Snow Tire Laws

snowtireThe year’s first significant snowfall in Ontario has renewed debates of whether the province should mandate snow tires.

Two other Canadian provinces, Alberta and Quebec, require that drivers buy snow tires and have them in place between certain dates (for Alberta, Oct.1 and April 30; for Quebec, Dec. 15 and March 15). The measure seems to be effective; the number of people involved in accidents dropped 5% in the first year the regulations were in effect for Quebec.

Proponents of similar legislation in Ontario are pointing to the public and private costs of accidents. After just the morning commute hour on Dec. 11, Toronto police had been called to the scenes of more than 100 accidents. Moreover, CAA (a major roadside assistance company) had gotten more than 1,500 service calls.

But private and government experts say that legal measures may not be the best option for Ontario.

“I think we lose the opportunity to educate when we immediately regulate,” Brian Patterson, president and CEO of the Ontario Safety League, told Global News Dec. 11.

He further explained that in Quebec, 95% of drivers had snow tires before legislation went into effect, making it easy to close that small gap. In Ontario, however, far fewer people are in the habit of buying winter tires. It would be more effective, Patterson suggested, to inform people as to their benefits before demanding that they spend money on a change they don’t fully understand.

Conservative government officials say that while all drivers should be encouraged to get snow tires — as well as make smart decisions about when it’s too dangerous to drive altogether — they’d rather people make the accommodations that seem best to them. “There are a lot of reasons why Ontarians should have snow tires on their vehicle, [but] making it mandatory at this time is something that we wouldn’t of course be interested in doing,” Progressive Conservative Michael Harris told a group of reporters at Queen’s Park.

Snow Vs. All-Season Tires

Accident experts across North America seem to agree on one thing: all-season tires aren’t truly adequate for areas that get significant snow in the wintertime.

Snow tires have deeper treads in order to increase traction on powdery snow and slippery ice. These are designed to channel snow and slush away so that the tire’s contact patches (the parts that actually grip the road) don’t become coated.

Tread blocks on winter tires are also intended to be more flexible, allowing them to “bite” into snow and ice.

But the materials of snow tires are as important as their construction. Special chemicals keep the rubber flexible even when temperatures drop far below freezing.

Robert Sinclair Jr., of AAA New York, says that he’s been using snow tires for the last 15 years, and that anyone who drives daily in winter conditions should do the same.

“If you get snow that’s deeper than an inch, all-season radials are usually rendered ineffective,” he told Fox Dec. 2.

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