Opinion: Do we really need mandatory winter tires in Metro Vancouver?

Every time the snow flies in Vancouver, traffic mayhem ensues. Roads are blocked, cars abandoned, trucks jackknifed and no one gets anywhere. Now Attorney General David Eby is mulling over the idea of making winter tires mandatory for Vancouver residents, just as it is for anyone driving the Coquihalla Highway or up to Whistler.

There’s a case to be made, no question. The roads would be safer. ICBC would get fewer calls and have to deal with fewer dial-a-claims on snowy days, which means less money being paid out for accidents and fewer injuries. That, in and of itself, is a good reason.

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Regardless, mandatory winter tires are not a good idea in Vancouver. An incentive to buy winter tires is a better option.

Why do we need winter tires anyway? Because tires don’t slide on ice, they slide on a thin film of water that can form on the surface of the ice, seven times thinner than a human hair. Between -6 and 0 degrees (depending on the weight of the vehicle), the tire itself can create this film of water, which causes the slippage. A good winter tire gets through that thin film of water to make contact with the ice so it can grip. And don’t rely on that four-wheel drive – it might get you going, but it doesn’t help you stop.

Before mandatory winter tires are enforced, how often they would be required anyway? Typically Vancouver gets two weeks of bad weather in winter, often less. So now there’s the significant additional expense for people who may just avoid driving in those conditions, but are subject to the enforcement when it’s not needed. The roads were a lot quieter when we had the last snowfall, as many chose not to drive.

Virtually everywhere in Canada gets more winter than we do. Yet Quebec and our mountain areas in B.C. are the only places that mandate winter tires. Most of Canada already thinks we left-coasters are wimps when it comes to driving in snow. Mandatory winter tires would just confirm it.

A better option is to give people a break on their insurance if they put winter tires on their car.

To do this, when buying their annual insurance, drivers either show the Autoplan agent the tire itself, or a photo of the tire on the car, to prove the tires exist for that car. If insurance is renewed in spring or summer, stop by the Autoplan agent and show you’ve installed them for the winter. If you don’t show up, or get caught driving without winter tires when they are required to be on (between November and April), the fine is four times the savings. Further, if you lied about it and get into an accident without the correct tires, the fine and the deducible double. Ouch.

In other words, don’t tell me what to do, but give me a reason to make a good decision. Politically, it’s a smarter move – you’ve let me save a bit of money instead of forcing me to spend, with the same outcome. I have winter tires on my car, and less likely to get into an accident.

A little break from the increased ICBC rates would be nice, especially if it makes the roads safer.

Brad Sherwin, MBA is a long-time resident of South Delta, and has over 30 years’ experience in marketing, public relations and business strategy. He teaches marketing at Douglas College, coaches hockey goalies and worked for a tire company – so he knows all about winter tires.

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