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Winter tires can save fuel and cash

New research shows improved economy and reduced chance of accidents


OTTAWA—Using winter tires during the winter months can increase the likelihood of avoiding a costly collision according to a report published by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF). The challenge researchers discovered was getting drivers to use winter tires. The report entitled, Winter Tires: A Review of Research on Effectiveness and Use, looks at existing Canadian and international research on the efficacy of winter tires and their potential effects. The study, sponsored by the Winter Driving Safety Coalition, also explored the public’s perceptions and use of winter tires.

“Available information from experimental studies and demonstration projects provide indications that, in winter driving conditions, winter tires outperform all-season tires and summer tires in terms of traction, cornering and braking,” notes Dr. Ward Vanlaar, TIRF’s vice-president of research. “In particular, braking comparisons across tire-types reveal that differences in stopping distances could be sufficiently significant to avoid a collision or reduce the severity of impact.”

While the review of the research on winter tires was promising, the advantages of using winter tires are not understood by many drivers. The study reviewed a number of public opinion polls and among non-winter tire users, the extra cost of buying winter tires was a key factor in their decision. This was followed by the belief that all-season and summer tires were sufficient for winter driving in their region, and that their vehicle’s safety features negated the need for winter tires. Researchers say this is not the case.

“Studies show that the more resilient compound of winter tires is beneficial when the air temperature is +7 degrees Celsius or lower, regardless of whether the roads are dry, wet, snow-covered or icy. While most jurisdictions may receive variable amounts of snow, a majority of Canadians experience temperatures of at least -10 degrees Celsius or colder” explains Vanlaar. “Even in moderate temperatures above 0 degrees, winter tires improve your car’s traction, cornering and braking ability. Also, anti-lock braking systems (ABS) and electronic stability control (ESC) require sufficient traction to be effective and winter tires can provide that needed traction.”

Even though it appears the public places a greater value on the short-term savings of not purchasing a set of winter tires, some research suggests that using winter tires is, in the long-term, less expensive than using all-season tires, as winter tires provide better fuel economy and increase the likelihood of avoiding a costly collision.

“Research showed that using winter tires in the winter and summer tires in the summer reduced fuel consumption by up to 5 percent,” clarifies Vanlaar. “Not to mention that the cost of an insurance deductible in most cases is likely more than the cost of winter tires.”

To help address this and other myths and misconceptions outlined in the study, researchers recommend the development and distribution of educational materials that incorporate winter tires into a vehicle owner’s overall vehicle winter preparedness plan.

“The proper use of winter tires is only one aspect of safe winter driving,” explains Coalition member Glenn Maidment of the Rubber Association of Canada. “Defensive driving techniques and overall vehicle maintenance and preparedness are equally as important. However, when one link is compromised, the chain as a whole is weakened. That’s why we feel that winter tires should play a more important role in safe winter driving.”

Researchers also recommend additional research on the impact of usage of winter tires on overall crash rates and its impact on the seriousness of crashes. By providing a more comprehensive, up-to-date and complete picture of the state of winter tire use in Canada, researchers can further inform sound decision-making.

Click to download a copy of the report, Winter Tires: A Review of Research on Effectiveness and Use.