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road sage

Winter has arrived across most of the country.

There is a magic to that first snow of the season. It casts a spell that transforms drivers into two categories: lunatics driving as if it were a dry day in July, and those driving 20 kilometres an hour paralyzed by fear. The only thing more predictable than the inevitability of Canadian winter is the ineptitude with which Canadian drivers will react to its arrival.

The inaugural snowfall also reveals clearly who has snow tires and who doesn’t. During Toronto’s first snow this week, for instance, those driving on all-season or summer tires were easy to spot. As their rubber stiffened and gave less traction, you saw them skidding haplessly on off-ramps and gliding in slow motion through stop signs and red lights. One motorist running on all-season tires flipped their car.

If only there were a way for drivers to avoid this fate.

If only there was a product.

If only someone would invent a tread rubber compound designed to remain flexible during extreme cold that would grip the road better than summer or all-season tires. And if only this compound were used to make tires that had deeper tread depths and distinct tread patterns that provide better traction and reduced snow build-up, and whose patterns channel snow and slush and expel water? And if only these tires featured biting edges and tire sipes (thin slits across a tire’s surface area) that would improve traction on wet and icy roads. We could even call them “Winter Tires.”

Oh yeah, they already exist and are available anywhere you buy tires – especially at stores with the word “tire” in their name.

Despite this, there are still drivers who won’t use winter tires. They are a minority, but they’re a stubborn one. A recent Leger survey of 1,607 Canadian drivers commissioned by the Tire and Rubber Association of Canada found that, while 82 per cent of drivers “believe investing in winter tires is important” only 63 per cent of drivers outside of Quebec (where winter tires are mandatory) say they will use winter tires. The Atlantic Provinces had the highest rate of usage at 74 per cent, with Alberta claiming the lowest at 56 per cent. The survey found the “most common reasons for not using winter tires are the belief that all-season tires are good enough (57 per cent), cost (26 per cent) and reduced driving in winter (25 per cent).”

This translates to:

  • Winter-Tire Truthers
  • Economically Disadvantaged
  • Liars

Let’s deal with them in turn.

Winter-Tire Truthers (a species I have written about in the past) believe there is a global conspiracy designed to dupe drivers into buying winter tires. Big Rubber is leading the bid to “trick” drivers. If you explain to a Truther that, while all-seasons stiffen, winter tires are made from a pliable rubber compound that stays soft under 7 degrees Celsius and gives a tighter grip on the road and allows for shorter braking distances, they will accuse you of being part of the winter-tire cabal. On Twitter you see some Truthers comparing winter tire use to mask wearing. Yes, we’re at that level.

The economically disadvantaged face a real impediment. They would like to have winter tires but buying them means not buying something else they need (like food). It’s easy to say, “If you can afford a car, you can afford winter tires” but many people are not served by reliable public transit and need their cars to get to work. For instance, a charity in Vernon, B.C., is trying to find someone to donate a set of winter tires to a grandmother of six who cannot afford them. Who wants to step up and accuse a grandmother looking after six grandchildren of not working hard enough in the capitalist food chain? Luckily, the The Fountain Tire Vernon and Salmon Arm locations were able to provide her with new Goodyear winter tires.

The liars are easy to spot. Think of them less as liars and more as “fraudulently optimistic.” They truly believe (when the sun is shining on a crisp fall day) that they do not need winter tires because they intend to drive less in the winter. This driving decrease makes sense when the weather is nice. But when they wake up and see a snowstorm raging, the temptation to get in their car, rather than walk or forgo the excursion altogether, is too great and they drive. So, while they intended to reduce their driving, the reality is that they either a) don’t or b) don’t reduce it much.

There is reason to be optimistic. A 2017 Tire and Rubber Association of Canada survey found that 60 per cent of drivers were using winter tires. In five years, we’ve gone up three percentage points. At that rate we only have approximately 70 years until we reach 100 per cent winter tire usage.

In the meantime, it doesn’t matter what you believe – winter tires save lives.

Sounds like a sound investment.