Winter tires: not the "silver bullet" solution for preventing icy crashes
By DAN ROBINSON Storm Chaser/Photographer
Part of my research on the road icing subject has involved getting a feel for widely-held perceptions and beliefs. One of the most common I see is the stout belief that winter tires are the 'silver bullet' solution to the road icing hazard. "If everyone bought winter tires, these accidents won't happen". I will agree that winter tires are good, in the sense that they do improve traction and handling on snow and ice. But unfortunately, they aren't the solution to preventing accidents, for these two main reasons:
Winter tires don't make it safe to travel at highway speeds on icy roads.
Most serious and fatal accidents on icy roads occur at highway speeds. Evidence shows that a major factor in many of these accidents is overconfidence in the capabilites of one's vehicle and its safety features, which leads to driving too fast for the conditions. Again, there's no doubt that winter tires will improve a car's traction and handling on snow and ice. But they don't improve it enough to make it safe to travel above 50mph on icy roads. One still will need to slow down!
Furthermore, winter tires don't sufficiently improve a vehicle's ability to stop or slow on icy roads enough to allow normal-speed travel, and fishtails that trigger a loss of control can still happen (the higher the speed, the easier it happens). A car with the best winter tires will still be a part of the multi-car pileups that happen due to traffic suddenly slowing or stopping. Start down a steep snow-covered hill with great winter tires, and you'll be sliding into the pile of vehicles at the bottom like everyone else!
Most accidents happen in parts of the US that only see icy roads a handful of times each year..
The Great Plains and Midwest have some of the highest fatality rates during icy road conditions, but these conditions are present in these regions only a few days during the winter. In most years, snow and ice covers the road less than a dozen times, and usually for less than 12 hours at a time. On dry pavement, winter tires wear quickly and have worse handling characteristics than all-season tires. So, for most people, going through the significant expense of purchasing and installing winter tires for these few instances doesn't make any economic and practical sense.
There are places where snow and ice is present on roads frequently enough to make winter tires a good investment. These would include northern states, lake effect snow belts and higher elevations. But again, even the car with winter tires doesn't magically become immune to accidents.
Again, this isn't to disparage winter tires. They do help, and if you live in places where snow and ice on roads is common, they are a great thing to have. Just remember that they don't make a vehicle invincible, nor do they change the fundamental action needed to prevent an accident: simply slowing down to a safe speed when the conditions are present.
The following comments were posted before this site switched to a new comment system on August 27, 2016:
Great tips keep them coming. - Posted by Kathleen from Centreville, VA
Studded and modern "studless" Winter tires work on ice. - Posted by Colin from Michigan
Flott illustrasjon til odrene dine! Joda, kjenner beskrivelsen. Ve6ret i dag er av samme slag, meget lavt skydekke og regnet for en time siden er ge5tt over til sludd/snf8...Gleder meg til e5 ff8lge "e5rstidsbildene" dine... - Posted by Rahul from tXkblQLE
In norway we USE winter tires know how to drive and laugh every time you guys drives at 50mph and belive this will go well with summer tires on. In norway IT is illegal to drive with summer tires when the road is icy. Could lose certifikat then. - Posted by Bent Sjursen