With the first snowfall, many motorists will start thinking about studded tires. We respectfully encourage a second thought.
They don’t make you safer, except in rare glare-ice conditions. Even then, they only make you slightly safer. On days when the pavement is wet, which is far more common, you won’t be able to stop as quickly.
From a safety standpoint, the optimum strategy would be to mount studded tires when ice covers the road, and then immediately remove them when it thaws.
Nobody does this.
Instead, motorists leave them on for five months, and the studs shred the roads – and taxpayers’ pocketbooks.
Tire technology has advanced to the point where all-season tires or snow tires are all that’s needed for winter driving. If you doubt this, ask a convert. About one-third of local drivers used to use studded tires. Now, it’s about one-fourth.
But the conversion isn’t occurring quickly enough. As a result, roads don’t last as long as they could. This is particularly nettlesome at a time when transportation dollars need to be stretched further.
The Spokane City Council is responding by putting this problem on its legislative agenda. State laws don’t allow municipalities to act, so cities are asking the state Legislature to respond with either a fee for studded tires or an outright ban. Council President Ben Stuckart requested figures on the extra costs for city street maintenance and found out it’s an estimated $4.9 million a year. The state spends an estimated $10 million to $25 million annually to rehabilitate roads that have been ripped and rutted by studs.
Many attempts have been made to either ban studs or hold their users accountable. Then-Sen. Chris Marr made a run at it in 2009 but hit the usual roadblock: a Senate Transportation Committee chairwoman who was adamantly opposed. But Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen has just been defeated, so perhaps there is hope.
Ten states have banned studded tires, including Wisconsin and Minnesota. Both get heavy snow. Three states – Oregon, Maine and Alaska – charge a fee. The tricky part about a fee is setting it high enough to recoup the costs incurred. Enforcement is also a challenge, especially in border cities such as Spokane.
Nonetheless, state lawmakers need to address this head-on, especially in the context of putting together a comprehensive transportation revenue package. Taxpayers will be more amenable to increased revenues if they see that lawmakers are taking steps to preserve the funds. That means preventing the damage done to roads in the first place.
In the meantime, state and local leaders need to lean on the horn and alert the public to the damage, the costs and the false security of studded tires. The city of Spokane is off to a promising start.