As Washington drivers gear up for winter conditions, state officials are once again asking people to avoid using studded tires.
It is still legal for drivers in the state to use studded tires between Nov. 1 and March 31. That window of time still applies to drivers from other states who pass through Washington. Drivers found with studded tires outside that window are subject to fines.
Studded tires cause millions of dollars worth of damage each year because of the chips they can form on roads. Those chips often expand into cracks and sometimes potholes – costing the Washington State Department of Transportation and local governments a total of roughly $25 million annually.
The state asks that people consider nonstudded winter tires, said transportation department spokesperson Tina Werner.
Nonstudded tires are legal year-round, Werner said, and they don’t damage the road nearly as bad as studded tires do.
Snow traction and ice braking tests done by Consumer Reports found studded tire models “do indeed grip well on ice, but they do not always out-perform studless models, which have more advanced winter tread compounds that stay pliable in the cold.”
In Washington, studded tires were banned until 1969, when lawmakers voted to allow them year-round. By 1971, nearly a third of all cars in the state had studded tires, according to the Washington State Transportation Commission.
In 2016, the state Legislature passed a law placing a $5 fee on each studded tire sold.
Since the state imposed the $5 fee, yearly sales of studded tires have decreased by nearly 40%. In fiscal year 2017, about 98,000 studded tires were sold in Washington, according to data from the state Department of Revenue. That number dropped to 62,000 tires – that’s 15,500 cars’ worth.
On Friday afternoon, workers at Preedy’s Tire & Automotive on Pacific Avenue in Spokane were hustling to keep up with customer demand, said employee Chris Hollabaugh. Most customers were choosing to put nonstudded tires on their vehicles, Hollabaugh said.
Snow blanketed much of the state and left roads slick as the week came to a close. On Snoqualmie Pass, 30 semitrucks spun out on eastbound Interstate 90, closing the major route through the Cascades for more than an hour Friday morning. The trucks were not chained, according to the State Department of Transportation.
In Spokane, authorities on Friday anticipated a busy weekend ahead. As of Friday evening, dozens of crashes had already been reported in the city.
The state Department of Transportation is encouraging people to check their car tires and batteries before driving in wintry conditions, spokesperson Werner said. The state agency is also urging winter drivers to always carry a “go kit” in their car with items including tire chains, jumper cables, a flashlight and a blanket.