It’s a question that pops up every winter: Are winter tires truly better than all-season tires?
The answer is yes — and while they aren’t legally mandated in Alberta like they are on British Columbia’s highways, local experts and officials recommend making the swap each winter.
Alberta Motor Association (AMA) spokesperson Brandon Klassen says when it comes to the tire hierarchy, winter tires are the best, followed by all-weather and then all-season tires.
“They definitely make a difference. Winter tires are absolutely beneficial to switch back on in the winter and make the road safer for all Albertans,” Klassen says, adding while all-weather tires are technically designed for all scenarios, it’s still better to choose winter tires.
“All-weather tires can be used year-round, but they definitely don’t provide the same level of protection in harsh conditions.”
Klassen says while AMA doesn’t have an official stance on whether winter tires should be mandatory in Alberta, they do encourage motorists to use them.
“Drivers should consider swapping to those winter tires when the average temperature starts to dip below seven degrees celsius, which is now.”
People often choose all-weather or all-season tires for the convenience
Klassen says because of the rubber compound, all-weather or all-season tires can be driven in the summer or the winter.
“So, there’s some convenience there. But choosing winter tires is still your best bet for the same safest drive,” Klassen says.
It’s not just a theory; it’s proven.
“Winter tires stop nearly 15 metres sooner on ice than an all-season tire. So, that’s about a car length, which could be the difference between a safe commute and a collision.”
While the stopping distance is the most important piece of protection winter tires provide, they also have wider grooves between the tread blocks, which expels and flushes snow easier.
“Essentially winter tires have a softer rubber than what an all-season tire would have to make them grippier on the pavement. An all-weather tire is going to have a softer rubber compound than an all-season, but winter tires are going to be the best for these types of conditions.”
It’s not all about the tires
Winter tires don’t make up for bad driving habits in the winter though and there are several things drivers should keep in mind when it comes to road safety, says Calgary police traffic Acting Staff Sgt. Rob Lewis.
“Winter tires are a good recommendation, but they’re not a replacement for good winter driving skills. They will perform better than summer tires, but they have their limitations,” Lewis says, adding drivers are generally meant to drive two seconds behind the vehicle in front of them.
“But that’s in optimal road conditions. You would not be wrong in doubling that to four seconds, five seconds so that you have sufficient time to react if the unexpected happens.”
Not leaving enough space can have a ripple effect when the roads are icy and slippery.
“Certainly, in my experience, following too close to the vehicle ahead and excessive speed is the number one cause of many rear-end collisions we have in our city,” Lewis says, adding it’s even more important to leave more space behind larger vehicles like trucks and semis.
“It’s surprising how people are willing to drive closely behind them because you can’t see through the vehicle. The closer you are to it, the more difficult it is to see, the less time you have to react to whatever hazard presents itself.”
That’s not the only winter driving tip
Lewis says it’s also important to not only clear the windshield of snow but the whole car, too.
“Snow has a tendency to fly off the vehicle and restrict the vision of vehicles behind it if it’s not cleared off of the vehicle, which can lead to people behind not being able to see, resulting in accidents,” he says, adding laziness isn’t an excuse.
“It takes maybe a minute to clear the whole vehicle off, not just the windows,” he says.
“That can save you possibly hours at the side of the road if you have to wait for a tow truck if you have the unfortunate experience of crashing the vehicle.”
Drivers should always ensure the proper windshield fluid is being used and always topped up, and plan for the trip ahead of them, Sgt. Lewis adds.
“Check the weather before you go. Anticipate extra time to prepare your vehicle for the trip,” he says.
“And when the weather turns really bad, ask yourself if this trip is really necessary? That will be a question you need to ask yourself before getting to the vehicle.
‘Tis the season to remember not to drive impaired
While Calgary police operate the Checkstop program year-round, they ramp it up during the holidays and this year is no exception.
Sgt. Lewis is reminding people not to drive impaired under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
“Impaired driving is one of our biggest problems for a variety of reasons. One of the worst duties to have to do at this time of year is having to tell someone that their loved one has died in a collision resulting from an impaired driver,” he adds.
If you’re planning on drinking, always plan ahead by leaving the car at home or by calling an Uber or taxi when you’re ready to go home.
“There are many ways to get home. There really isn’t an excuse anymore to not catch a taxi or an Uber. We’ve heard pretty much all of the excuses,” he says.
“Unfortunately, the traffic section deals with the serious collisions and the fatal collisions. Nothing is worth it. Nothing.”
Here are some tips on how to prepare your car for emergencies.