Winter tire use up across the board

In Quebec, it's not just a good idea, it's the law: If you want to drive the province's roadways in the cold weather months, you have to install winter tires. But even in parts of the country where winter tires are optional, more Canadians are using them, presumably of the mind that they're better at gripping the road than the all-weather variety that are typical in the summer, fall and spring months, a newly released poll suggests.

In Ontario, Canada's most-populated province that also has the largest amount of motorists, nearly 66 percent of drivers use winter tires, according to a recent survey conducted by the Tire and Rubber Association of Canada. That's up from 56 percent as recently as 2014.

The same is true in British Columbia. In Canada's western most province, approximately 50 percent of drivers own and use winter tires, an increase of 11 percent from the 38 percent who operated with them two years ago when a similar poll was performed.

The prairie provinces have seen similar growth in winter tire usage rates, averaging 55 percent in Alberta from 45 percent, 50 percent in Manitoba and 50 percent in Saskatchewan, up from 39 percent in both provinces two years earlier, according to TRAC's findings.

Winter tires better than ever at starting, stopping
What's driving the rise in winter tire use? Besides the vehicles themselves (pardon the pun), improved performance may be the difference-maker. TRAC experts indicate that the cold weather tires of today have stronger and more intricate tread design and rubber compounds than yesterday, enabling the typical passenger car's wheels to grip the road much more effectively than in years gone by. They're also more tolerant of extreme cold, capable of retaining their durability when temperatures reach as low as 7 degrees Celsius. Their stellar dexterity helps motorists wield greater control over their automobiles, starting and stopping in a much more timely fashion.

If nothing else, the widespread adoption of winter tires helps make the country's highways and byways safer for road users, noted Glenn Maidment, TRAC president.

"However, the fact that 3 in 10 motorists still do not own winter tires poses a threat to all motorists," Maidment warned. "This is why outreach to educate drivers continues to be needed. Every motorist needs to know that today's high-tech winter tires radically outperform all-seasons in all cold-weather driving conditions and offer potentially life-saving benefits."

Accidents down sharply since mandate took effect
Indeed, when Quebec made winter tires mandatory back in 2008, the provincial government commissioned a study three years later to see what effect, if any, the requirement had on area roadways. The analysis discovered that winter road accident injuries fell 5 percent compared to what was typical prior to 2008 prior to the tire mandate, TRAC reported. Additionally, there was a 3 percent dip in serious incidents and highway fatalities.

Creatures of habit – as well as those who would rather not spend the premium attached to winter tires – contend that the alternative to winter tires is every bit as effective. However, scientists say otherwise, including Michael Edwards, who heads strategic initiatives at Science East. In an interview with CBC News, Edwards stipulated that winter tires are "definitely better," and in a variety of scenarios, not just cold and snow.

"Because Canada is, I think, technically, what scientists call cold in the winter, then that means that your all-season tires, the main material in those, it actually gets much harder at a lower temperature," Edwards explained. "When they do that, they don't have the responsiveness to grip onto the asphalt."

He added that the zigzagging grooves and patterns  – which are more formally known as sipes – helps tires better adhere to road surfaces. They do this by wicking water away – both in frozen and normal form – enabling spinning tires to remain in contact with the ground for the duration of however long a ride lasts.

Other provinces are considering mandating winter tires. Just last year, legislation went into effect in British Columbia that required certain highways be traveled only by motorists whose vehicles were appropriately outfitted with wheels geared for cold weather. The ban on all-weather tires runs from Oct. 1 and ends March 31.