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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Studded tire debate ongoing

Any mention of studded tires triggers an onslaught of debate, with opinions ranging from “must have them” to “abhor them.”

Reader N.S., a fan of studs, wrote, “You keep beating the drums against studded tires, claiming that Blizzaks and similar ‘ice’ tires are sufficient.  I have tried Blizzaks on my SUV and they do not give sufficient traction during the conditions shown in the video.  I live on a hill like that shown in the video, and encounter these conditions every winter.  That’s when I need tire studs.”

N.S. supplied me a link to a video assembling typical news footage from around the nation showing vehicles helplessly careening down various regions’ icy inclines.

I’m not really “beating the drums” against studs, since I’ve only mentioned them a few times over the many years of this column.  I appreciate N.S.’s reminder, though, since I think competent drivers can negotiate the winter roadways successfully using non-studded tires. 

One example of that is our Washington State Patrol, operating its entire fleet of rear-wheel-drive cruisers with non-studded winter tires.  Though they drive in every conceivable road condition, their motivation for avoiding studded tires is not only to protect the road surface from wear, but to protect their troopers from the lack of adhesion studs offer for cornering and stopping on wet and dry roads.  Those conditions are prevalent for an estimated 98 percent of driving in our region.   

I’ve also demonstrated studless viability driving thousands of miles within Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming in December and January during past years as a manufacturer’s rep.

I’m not sure what kind of hill N.S.lives on, since there were many in the video.  Is it a really a hill that is always covered in untreated clear ice or packed snow?  I live near steep hills, but when conditions get like that, it is not long before the hill is plowed, de-iced, and/or sanded.  Anyone who enters such a hill at such a moment is likely to slide down it like the cars in the video; I suspect that one or more of the cars in the video even had studs.  When the slickness on Ray Street a couple years back created a similar, nationally-shown video, there WERE vehicles with studded tires in the mix.

The point is that these conditions are very rare, and when they occur, even vehicles with studs are helpless victims of gravity.  I have seen vehicles with studded tires in the ditch — in fact, driving too fast for conditions, 4 X 4s and vehicles with studs represent many one-car accidents here.

A final point — one that I made in a recent column:  Lately, the residential intersections near my home have evolved to clear ice.  The stop and takeoff stud-skids left on those surfaces are so plentiful that it looks like a hockey game took place there.  I wonder why alleged superior ice-grippers leave the long marks, when I’m able to stop without skid, and take off without spin on the same surface using standard winter or all-season tires.

Since I can drive just fine for hours on a highway with black ice or up/down virtually any hill with non-studded tires, I won’t sacrifice safety 98 percent of the time by installing studs.  It’s probable that the inferior handling of studded tires on wet and dry pavement has actually caused accidents.  If I get to an icy hill like those shown in the video, the melee happening there will prompt me to take an alternate route.

Reader J.H. evidently doesn’t care for studs, and asked, “Is there a go to independent web site to evaluate snow tires so I can dump my wife’s studded snow tires?”

The WSDOT sanctioned a major study in 2002, leading to WSP’s decision to avoid them:  That study showed a slight stud advantage on glare ice, but winter-specific tire improvements since then have eroded that advantage.  There are many other internet comparisons by tire sellers and manufacturers showing minimal to no advantage for studs.

You should use tires you feel comfortable and confident with, but please be open to all of the choices.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at