Get a grip: Snow tires work, experts say

Awareness, not legislation, is the key to getting more Ontarians to use winter tires, according to Sergeant Cam Woolley of the OPP’s highway safety division.

Most Ontarians keep all season tires on their cars for the whole year. Winter tires use a softer form of rubber, which gives them much more traction, reducing stopping distances and improving grip in icy or snowy conditions.

In Quebec, the National Assembly recently passed a law requiring all drivers to equip their cars with winter tires between November and April each year.

“But in Quebec, you already had 90 per cent compliance, whereas in Ontario it’s more like 25 per cent,” Woolley said. “We don’t have to wait for legislation. Instead we have to show people that winter tires are a neccessity.”

According to Robert Tremblay, director of road safety at the Insurance Bureau of Canada, not all Ontarians need winter tires.

“It should be an individual decision based on your driving patterns,” he said. “Ontario gets less than half the precipitation of Quebec and if you are driving just a couple of times a week, your need is much less acute.”

For Woolley, any person driving in winter conditions should have winter tires fitted. “More than half of the accidents on a snowy day involve one vehicle simply losing it,” he said. “It’s easy to go out and get caught in a storm.”

Tremblay feels insurance companies have a role to play in encouraging safer winter driving.

‘Let the market decide’

“Some of our members are offering discounts to drivers with snow tires,” Tremblay said. “It’s something that we should let the market decide.”

Leon Lieman, manager of Superior Tire and Auto on Danforth Avenue, thinks legislation is the only way to cut the number of winter accidents.

“I think we need a law here,” he said. “Many are just skeptics, until they try (winter tires) and feel the difference.”

Lieman said a set of winter tires could cost about $100-300, depending on the size of the vehicle. He also explained that many tire retailers have storage facilities for customers worried about where to keep the tires when they are not in use.

Woolley urged drivers not to be put off by the hassle of changing your tires twice a year.

“Tires are a grudge purchase. Nobody gets excited about tires,” he said. “The price of winter tires is about the same as your insurance deductible and it’ll make your all seasons last longer.”

According to Lieman, the severity of the winter in Toronto has boosted sales of winter tires. “We’ve seen a lot more interest this year,” he said. “About 20 per cent of all our sales have been to first-time buyers.”

The weather this year has also worked to underscore Woolley’s message. “We’ve pushed the message a lot harder this year,” he said. “With the bad weather, people have been more willing to listen.”