As snow falls in Central Alberta, winter tire use rises

Winter tires are not mandatory in Alberta, but according to one local business, more Central Albertans are turning to winter tires

Winter tires are not mandatory in Alberta, but according to one local business, more Central Albertans are turning to winter tires of their own accord.

Russel Downing, assistant manager at Fountain Tire Lacombe, said their store has seen increasing demand for winter tires over the last five years.

“To put a number on it, I’d say 60 to 70 per cent of our customers are using winter tires now,” Downing said.

Downing’s estimate is in contrast to the findings of a 2011 Canadian Tire survey that found only 28% of Alberta drivers used winter tires.

Downing said this year has been especially busy for sales of winter tires because of the early, intense winter driving conditions.

“When we get this much snow this early in the year, we have a lot of people coming in and they say they’ve never had winter tires in the past, but they’re going to give them a try this year because it’s been such a rough-weather year.”

This year’s heavy snowfall and icy, cold conditions may have prompted many Central Albertans to decide winter tires are worth it, but unlike in British Columbia or Quebec, the Alberta government has not made seasonal use of winter tires mandatory.

Each winter in British Columbia, the provincial government determines which highways winter tires will be mandatory for. In Quebec, any registered taxi or passenger vehicle must be equipped with winter tires between Dec. 15 and March 15. According to Transports Québec’s web site, the province is in the process of updating their regulations: as of Dec. 15, 2014, for a tire to qualify as a winter tire it must either be equipped with studs or bear the pictogram signifying the mountain/snowflake rating.

Downing explained that the mountain/snowflake rating means the tire met the required performance testing in winter driving conditions.

“In order to get that mountain/snowflake rating that tire has to be 10 per cent better on winter and icy conditions than the standard all-season they have measured it by,” said Downing.

The success of the legislation in Quebec may have prompted the expanded regulations that will require winter tires to be approved under the mountain/snowflake ratings.

The 2012 study Winter Tires: A Review of Research on Effectiveness and Use, published by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation, notes that since mandatory winter tire legislation has only been in effect in Quebec since 2008, there isn’t a significant amount of data available yet. However, the average number of people killed in collisions during the winter in Quebec dropped from 822 to 523—a 30% decrease in deaths once winter tires became mandatory.

The same study also recommended having four of the same winter tires, instead of two that are mixed with two regular or all-season tires. Having a mixed set can compromise vehicle stability and cause it to spin out of control.

RCMP Blackfalds Detachment Commander Ken Morrison spent part of his career working as a collision reconstructionist. Citing his experience with the advantages of having police vehicles equipped with winter tires in bad driving conditions, he said making winter tires mandatory in Alberta might not be a bad idea.

“I think it should be considered. I can see the advantage of to what we do by having four winter tires on the police cars and the traction we have and what we’re expected to do with them during snowstorms,” Morrison said.

Even though it is not mandatory, Morrison encourages Central Albertans to choose a set of winter tires, echoing the sentiment that all four tires should be the same. “I strongly recommend that every fall, if possible, and again it comes to money, if you can afford it, four winter tires are the best way to go on a vehicle,” Morrison said.

Lacombe Fire Chief Ed van Delden also endorses the use of winter tires for Alberta drivers, though he notes that in some cases they might not be necessary.

“I would strongly encourage people to do that. But I also know that there are some people who drive very little or they don’t need to drive in stormy weather, or in adverse conditions. So would all-season tires get them through? I suspect that’s the case.”

van Delden said the important message for all drivers, whether or not they have winter tires, is to realize driving in the winter just isn’t the same as summer driving.

“Give yourself some time, slow down and enjoy the ride.”