Once again, the Legislature will consider studded tires; once again, we support an annual permit for their use.
It’s confounding that a state with an enormous road maintenance backlog would allow drivers to hasten a highway’s demise without bearing any responsibility. Banning the metal road rippers could save the state $18 million to $27 million annually, according to the Washington State Transportation Commission. Vice Chairman Joe Tortorelli told The Spokesman-Review that he supports a phase-out of studded tires.
The technology of winter tires has advanced to the point that limitations on studded tires make sense. Research shows that studs are only advantageous in rare “glare ice” conditions. In more common scenarios, such as wet and dry pavement, it takes longer to stop a vehicle with studded tires.
Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota – all cold climate states – have imposed bans.
While the Transportation Commission has been advocating bans for 25 years, the Legislature keeps spinning its wheels. Lawmakers tried and failed to impose a $25 surcharge on studded tires in 1991 and 1993. An $8-per-tire annual permit also failed. In 2010, both a ban and an annual $100-per-vehicle fee were rejected.
Meanwhile, the cumulative destruction has continued to mount. Along with eroding road surfaces and carving ruts, studs wear out paint stripes and wear down raised markers. In short, they increase damage and make roads more dangerous.
Two bills would recoup some of the costs.
HB 1653 would impose an annual $100-per-vehicle permit and a $500 fine. SB 5610 calls for a $75 permit and a $75 fine. Both bills steer the money back to road maintenance. A motorist who still wanted to use studded tires would purchase and place a sticker on the rear license plate. For easy detection, the background color of the permit would change each year.
Critics who want an outright ban note that this would not recoup the full cost of the damage. True, but a ban represents a harsh change for people who truly believe studded tires make them safer. The prospect of paying $75 to $100 a year could compel them to re-evaluate their position and voluntarily make the switch.
Another suggested solution is to place a fee on studded tires at the point of purchase, but this would drive many people into Idaho and Oregon tire shops. That should be a non-starter for a border city such as Spokane.
An annual permit is a reasonable start, because it balances personal responsibility and choice. Plus, it collects money from commuters who live in other states. Higher fees or an outright ban can be imposed later if the damage from studs continues to mount.
What should be clear by now is that the cost of doing nothing is unacceptably high. Don’t let another opportunity slip away.
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