It’s usually November when I’m reminded that too many drivers still prefer studded tires. But this year people are asking law enforcement and news agencies if they can be installed early, before Washington’s November 1st allowable date.
The answer is no — a couple of early wet snowstorms do not necessitate the use of studded tires. In fact, no time or condition justifies their use. Astute drivers, reading the road surface and driving accordingly, can get though episodes of snow and even ice successfully..
Today’s all-season tires use cross-siping and rubber compounds that have excellent grip in rainy, snowy and icy conditions. And modern studless winter-specific tires closely match the ice traction of studded tires — greatly exceeding it when stopping and cornering on wet and dry road surfaces.
Drivers using all-wheel and four-wheel drive vehicles enjoy even more traction, especially for taking off and climbing hills. These drivers, like drivers of all vehicles, must remember to simply reduce speed in slick conditions. Even all-wheel drive cars stop no faster than their two-wheel drive counterparts.
Road surface wear and deterioration from studded tires is well-documented — that’s why many states, including snowy ones like Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin have banned them. Retailers, like Costco, have discontinued studded sales as a worthy corporate statement.
Regardless of tires used, drivers must employ gentle input to the steering wheel, accelerator pedal and brake pedal on slippery roads. Even backing off the accelerator pedal too quickly can initiate too much engine braking, causing a spin. Looking well ahead is especially important when rolling on snow or ice, so that ample warning eliminates abrupt emergency maneuvers.
Again, good drivers can negotiate any conditions with proper caution. The Washington State Patrol Troopers exemplify that premise by using non-studded winter tires throughout the winter. I suspect one of the reasons for that is they wish to have optimum traction in the wet or dry road conditions experienced 98 percent of the time during winter. Thus, their motivation for avoiding studded tires is not only to protect the road surface from wear, but to protect officers from the lack of adhesion studs offer for cornering and stopping on wet and dry roads.
The Washington State Department of Transportation is rightfully concerned with the accelerated road wear and rutting caused by studded tire use. Every state has done extensive research on the topic and they all agree that studs cause pavement wear and rutting that is both substantial and costly. Here, it’s estimated that winter studded tire use shortens road life an average of four years, which translates to an annual cost of 10 million.
The rutting caused by studs is factual, costly, and dangerous. Studies conducted in Washington and other states show that studs are responsible for 100 percent of the ruts made in concrete highways, and 60 percent of those dug into asphalt — heavy vehicles also contribute to the asphalt ruts. We not only spend plenty resurfacing damaged roads, but safety is not at an optimum on rutted roadways. Hydroplaning, excess road spray when following vehicles and “auto-pilot” steering are all hazards made worse by stud-running.
Whatever tire you use, be sure it has adequate tread. Though not illegal until reaching 2/32nds of an inch of remaining tread, more than 5/32nds is recommended for winter use — I prefer even more — new tires have 10-12/32nds.
Studded tire use is waning — jump on that bandwagon!
Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.