The only thing more frustrating than being stuck behind a car without snow tires on a mountain pass is being the guy in the car with no snow tires. Don’t be that guy. It’s not smart, it’s not safe, and it’s not fair to everyone else who is behind you.
What Are Snow or Winter Tires?
There are two qualities that define snow tires: tread and material. The tread is deeper and allows better grip in snow or on ice giving better traction. The material is a softer rubber that resists stiffening up in the colder temperatures and allows the tire to mold better to the road surface. In the U.S. a symbol of 3 mountain peaks with a snowflake or the “Snowflake on the mountain,” as it is called, designates winter tires that exceed industry standards from a non-snow tire. In Europe a symbol of an M+S is a winter tire.
It’s The Law in Europe
German law in Bavaria requires winter tires when driving in wintry conditions. A small fine is levied for the first offense, however if you impede the free flow of traffic due to not having winter tires the fine is doubled; cause a wreck and the fine rises more. In Austria winter tires are mandatory from November 1 to April 15th and sometimes chains can be made compulsory when heavy snow is falling. Failure to comply can result in a fine up to 5,000 euros and the vehicle’s use suspended. Finland requires snow tires used from December 1 to March 1st.
In all the prefectures of Japan except for Okinawa which is their southern-most prefecture, snow tires or chains are required if the roads are icy or slushy. You can and probably will be fined if caught with summer tires on an icy road.
In the city of Montreal inside the province of Quebec, you can be fined up to $300 for no snow tires anytime between December 15th and March 15th. It is reported that 38% of all accidents there in the winter are caused by cars with summer tires.
Back In the U.S.A.
The U.S doesn’t have set laws on snow tires but extreme weather can cause chain laws to go into effect. Chain laws require trucks to chain up, especially in the mountains and the fines are steep if they don’t. In Colorado authorities can require passenger vehicles to have chains or snow tires when the chain law is in effect but the rules are rarely enforced for cars. The Interstate 70 corridor into the mountains west of Denver is notorious for backups due to accidents or even just cars unable to gain traction at the Eisenhower tunnel which cuts through the Continental Divide.
Switch Them Out
Sure there are extra costs involved when you have separate sets of summer and winter tires but the safety and peace of mind you get is well worth it. The trade-off is: if you switch back and forth with your summer tires they both will last twice as long. You do have to pay to have them switched but since you only use each set for half of the year, you will go twice as long before either needs replacing. Plus, that guy behind you can worry about his own problems because you’ll be way ahead.