There is an increasing sense of urgency around the subject of winter tyres, within some parts of the industry. Continental's consumer web site sums this up when it says, "switch to winter tyres now!" So what will it take to kick-start the winter tyre market?
There is no doubt that the government has a part to play. Something that would really help the UK market is legislation. A number of other EU countries have made the use of winter tyres a legal requirement and many offer specific winter recommendations. Without legislation, or at least official advice, it is always going to be difficult to encourage people to change life long habits. Even in a country like Sweden, where the need for winter tyres is quite visible, there were still a significant number of motorists driving without the appropriate tyres. That was until the government introduced legislation. In 1999, the government passed a law enforcing the use of season specific tyres. As a result, the total number of motorists using winter tyres went up 10 per cent by 2002, according to the Swedish National Road Administration. That may not sound like a huge amount, but the increase meant that nearly all drivers in the studied area (Östergötland) were using winter tyres.
Driving abroad - check legislation:
In the UK, however, there is no legislation and very little in the way of advice. The main authority on the subject, the Highway Code, is less than forthcoming. In fact the official guide, which describes itself as "essential reading for everyone," has nothing on the subject of winter tyres, and only contains three entries on the subject of tyres in general. The addition of a line explaining how improved grip could be attained by using winter tyres, would improve consumer perceptions of winter tyres no-end. But as we have seen, a legal requirement would be even better.
So what is the industry doing to register its support for the introduction of legislation, or at least better governmental advice?
The National Tyre Distributors Association is fully supportive of the introduction of winter tyre legislation, director, Richard Edy, told Tyres & Accessories.
"The NTDA is a founder member of an organisation called CETRO (Committee for European Tyre Retailing Organisations) which was set up a couple of years ago. CETRO, through its honorary secretary, Ruud Spuijbroek, has been lobbying within the European Commission for a change in tyre laws, including the acceptance that winter tyres are safer to use in the winter months."
This is certainly encouraging news, but, according to NTDA chairman, Martin Rowlands, "progress in promoting winter tyres has been slow."
Another industry body, the TIC, sees itself as the voice of tyre safety in the UK, but despite this position does not appear to have done anything significant in terms of lobbying.
The fact remains, as far as the UK government is concerned there is not likely to be any new legislation unless the EU introduces it first.
It is the same story with tread-depth. According to the AA's Richard Freeman, in wintry conditions, "it's true that to be safe you're better off with 3mm or more." But as far as Mr Freeman and the AA are concerned, "a change to a 3mm legal minimum would in our view lead to an unacceptable extra cost to drivers, as tyres with tread between 2mm and 3mm are still perfectly serviceable for normal driving for the majority of the year. We recommend a change at 2mm, as beyond that point performance drops off markedly."
The problem is, even though a major motoring association recommends changing tyres at 2mm, most consumers read the letter of the law, see 1.6mm and close their mind to the possibility of changing tyres. No doubt it will be the same with winter tyres.
Consumers aside, the fleet market is absolutely central to a successful introduction winter tyres. If the fleets get on board then it would start a domino effect that would see distributors more inclined to stock them and would ultimately lead to a sharp increase n the use of winter tyres. But the fleets will only pay out if they are obliged to or if there is something in it for them.
The introduction of governmental advice could lead to insurers offering reduced premiums to people who choose winter tyres. After all, 48 per cent of all accident claims are made during the autumn and winter months. Surely improved grip would reduce the accidents and make winter driving safer for motorists and cheaper for insurance companies. Again a similar scheme is already in operation on the continent. In Germany a driver involved in an accident could be negligent in the eyes of insurers if their vehicle was not using the appropriate tyres. So far, though, insurers have provided the industry with inconclusive responses on the subject. They, like the rest of the industry, are waiting for someone else to make the first move.
So if legislation has proven to be effective around the EU, and insurance incentives have the potential to create a similar effect, isn't it about time the UK market made took the lead?
Source Tyres & Accessories August 2004
The use of winter tyres is not mandatory in France. Nevertheless in some mountainous areas signs warn drivers that snow chains are necessary. In France, drivers of vehicles that weigh up to 3.5 tonnes can use spikes from November until the end of March. Vehicles using spikes are restricted to a maximum speed of 90 km/h on out-of-town roads and 50 km/h in residential areas. In addition vehicles have to bare a badge indicating the use of spikes.
Winter tyres are mandatory in Switzerland between 1st November and 15th April for vehicles not using snow chains. These dates may be extended in weather conditions persist.
Snow chains can only be used if the roads have a complete covering of snow and must be fitted on at least two driving wheels.
Winter tyres are mandatory in Austria. The law states that passenger cars with a permissible maximum weight of up to 3.5 tonnes may be operated only between 1 November and 15 April in winter conditions such as snow, slush or ice if winter tyres have been installed on all wheels. All-season tyres are also considered winter tyres if they have the "M + S" mark.
As an alternative to winter tyres, snow chains may be used on at least two driving wheels, however, these may only be used in case the road is covered by a complete or scarcely broken snow cover or sheet of ice. Failure to comply with the law results in a fine up to 5,000 Euros and the vehicle could be impounded. Insurance is deemed void if a vehicle which is involved in an accident between November 1 and April 15 is not fitted with winter tyres.
It is not compulsory to use winter tyres in Italy. Snow chains should be carried and used as dictated by local signs or road conditions - reduced speed limits may apply.
From 15th October to 15th April vehicles must be equipped with winter tyres or snow chains in the Val d'Aosta area.
In Finland winter tyres are compulsory from 1st December to the end of February unless otherwise indicated by road signs. Winter tyres must be marked with the M&S symbol on the sidewall.
Spiked tyres may be used from 1st November until the first Monday after Easter.
Snow chains are allowed but only where there's sufficient snow to avoid any damage to the road surface.
Winter tyres are compulsory from 1st December until 1st March
Spiked tyres are not allowed from 1st May until 1st October
Winter tyres are not compulsory,however snow chains are as dictated by local road signs - in the event that there is ice or snow covering the roads winter tyres or tyres with snow chains must be used.
Spiked tyres may be used from November 1st until the first Sunday after Easter. If spiked tyres are fitted there is a charge (in Oslo, Bergen and Trondhelm) stickers are available to buy daily, monthly or yearly.
From October 15th until May 1st you are permitted to use spiked tyres in Nordland, Troms and Finnmark.
Winter tyres which must be marked M&S are compulsory from December 1st until March 31st with a minimum tread depth of 3mm.
Spiked tyres may be used from October 1st until April 15th but must be fitted to all wheels. Please note that local authorities have the power to ban the use of spiked/studded tyres on their roads.
Snow chains may be used if weather/road conditions require.
Snow chains must be carried from November 15th until March 15th (and when the winter weather conditions necessitate) by cars and vehicles up to 3.5 tonnes unless the vehicle is fitted with four winter tyres with a minimum tread of 3mm. Spiked tyres are prohibited.
Motorists are obliged to make sure they have correct tyres to suit the winter weather conditions. This may mean the use of winter tyres (with M&S or snowflake symbol) and in extreme weather, the additional use of snow chains.
Vehicles with summer tyres fitted are not allowed to be driven on roads covered with snow and ice. Fines are in place for vehicles found to be doing so.