Assessing the impact of winter tires

Published: December 2, 2019

Updated: December 4, 2019

Author: Luke Jones

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Motorists across Canada are taking the option to install winter tires in exchange for auto insurance discounts, while in Quebec they are mandated to do so. These drivers have been told winter tires make driving on roads during the winter months safer. But, how much safer are winter tires?

Quebec provides a good study area because the province forces drivers to install winter tires under risk of fines if they fail to do so. Specifically, motorists who fail to have the specialised rubber installed between Dec. 1 and March 15 will face a $300 fine.

Quebec remains the only province in Canada to enforce a winter tire program, which has been in place since 2008. Over that time, the impact of the law is hard to assess. However, road deaths during in Quebec have decreased by half since the turn of the century.

According to the province’s automobile safety board, there were 766 road-related deaths in 2000. That number has fell to 359 in 2018. 6.6 million registered vehicles were in Quebec during 2018.

While Quebec’s numbers are encouraging, they are not necessarily in correlation with winter tires. Provinces that don’t force drivers to install winter tires under the name of the law have also seen road deaths decrease.

Ontario is a good example. The province has seen a dip in road deaths of over 60 per cent between 1980 and 2010. The Transport Department says Ontario has 531 road deaths in 2018, with 9.9 million registered vehicles in the province.

This equates to a death rate in line with Quebec’s, while 30% of Ontario drivers still don’t use winter tires.