As Northwest drivers brave slick commutes this winter, state transportation officials are preparing to spend millions of dollars repairing roads damaged by the stress of studded tires.
Each year, many drivers in Washington and Oregon use the pin-filled traction tires to safely make their way through snow and ice. The tires are permitted from Nov. 1 through March 31, but when the winter driving season comes to an end, the two states are consequently left with a hefty repair bill to patch up tattered roads and highways.
The Washington state Department of Transportation estimates the tires cause between $17.8 million and $27.3 million in damage throughout the state every year. And the Oregon Department of Transportation spends more than $11 million a year on its own road maintenance related to studded tire use.
Nonetheless, few drivers west of the Cascades are likely to rely on studded tires, and most of those who do have concerns about tearing up roads, according to a PEMCO Insurance poll on attitudes toward the tires. The company polled 1,200 drivers in Washington and Oregon, and the results showed most drivers steer away from studs, said PEMCO spokesman Jon Osterberg.
“We learned that 65 percent of Washington and Oregon drivers said, ‘Yeah, we never use studs,’ ” Osterberg said.
Furthermore, nearly four out of five drivers who depend on studded tires said they are likely to scale back their use to help preserve roadways, Osterberg said.
According to the poll, only 17 percent of drivers west of the Cascades drive with studded tires this time of year. On the other side of the mountains, where the winter driving season tends to be more treacherous, 38 percent of drivers normally use the tires.
Generally speaking, Osterberg has seen little change in attitudes among drivers from when PEMCO first conducted the poll in 2011. However, he found the latest results revealed some surprising variations among age groups and those with children.
“Drivers under age 35 use studded tires far more than older drivers,” Osterberg said. “Maybe older drivers feel that they’re better at driving in the snow and don’t need them.”
Parents are also nearly two times more likely to support studded tires than those without children, according to the study.
Around the U.S., 11 states have outlawed studded tires, and seven others have no restrictions. Most states allow them for a short time frame each year, and in Georgia they are only permitted for driving in snow and ice.
In all, less than 30 percent of the survey respondents said they consider studded tires a serious problem. However, more than half preferred enacting stricter laws on studded tires.
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