Treading Softly on the Topic of Snow Tires

If you know anyone living in Québec and feel the need for a conversation starter, ask them about that province’s winter tires law. The response will no doubt be animated and potentially mixed with a bit of profanity. It’s a tough law and one that most other Canadians don’t want spreading across the country.

Québecers must have winter tires installed from December 15 to March 15. Unless the tires have the specific pictogram (a mountain snowflake), they are not approved under the Highway Safety Code. Fines range from $200-300. The law has been in effect since 2008 and residents had until last year to install approved tires. Quebec’s Ministry of Transport cites five percent fewer victims of motor vehicle accidents and that winter tires will brake up to 25% shorter in winter road conditions.

So, why is there such resistance to making winter tires mandatory? For most of us, we don’t like being told that we have to do something that we may feel is unnecessary. There’s also the added expense of buying winter tires and/or having no room to store an extra set of tires. But, are these arguments valid reasons to reject boosting safety? Transport Canada states that it’s safer to install winter tires when the temperature falls below 7-degrees Celsius and winter tires outperform all-season tires at low temperatures on snow and ice-covered roads.

According to Car Help Canada, the tread depth is about 30% deeper on new snow tires and there are usually more grooves that are larger. This helps the tires grab hold of the snow and push out slush and water. Also, the rubber is softer and more elastic in cold weather (to -40C) whereby all-season tires lose their elasticity between -8C and -15C.

There is a new mandatory snow tire law now in effect on specific highways in British Columbia but, in Ontario, winter tires (or all-season tires) are not mandatory anywhere. The Ministry of Transportation website recommends:

“For improved traction in winter, it is preferable to install winter or all-season tires with matching tread at all four corners of the vehicle.”

In April of this year, the government also announced that drivers who choose to install snow tires will receive a discount from their insurance companies.

While Ontario and other provinces may not be willing to enact mandatory snow tire legislation, drivers should at least consider it. Winter driving is brutal; it makes sense to do what you can to make your journey as safe as possible. Since the winter season is quickly approaching, it might also be helpful to review these reminders, kindly provided by the MTO.

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