Ontario should make snow tires mandatory

In mid-December, during one of the late fall’s many cold snaps, the Sudbury CBC station announced one slippery morning that Sudbury Regional Police had suggested that drivers whose cars weren’t equipped with winter tires should stay off the roads that day.

That was an unusual, but practical, suggestion by a Northern police force for winter tires (or snow tires as we more often refer to them) are not mandatory in Ontario as they now are in the neighbouring province of Quebec.

But perhaps they should be and the Sudbury Regional Police force’s press release was alluding to this.

During last week’s period of unusually cold weather, highways on and off Manitoulin were littered with cars and trucks that ended up in ditches, or worse, as drivers lost control due to slippery conditions.

Not long after New Year’s Day, two people died in two separate crashes just south and east of Sudbury and, in the late fall, slippery conditions more locally led to a fatal car crash on Highway 6 near the Willisville turnoff while, the same day near Webbwood on the Trans Canada Highway, another person died as a result of a three-car pileup.

These fatal mishaps have moved the LaCloche Municipal Association, the organization that represents area municipalities from Spanish to Nairn Centre, to question the Minister of Transportation about the current standard of winter highway maintenance, a question that has, predictably, been answered by a ministry spokesperson saying they are satisfied the highways are being maintained to their satisfaction and that their standards are being met.

Meanwhile, the winter weather is upon us, we’re enjoying an unseasonably long period of cold weather that began in mid-November and is still with us and the roads are quite often slippery as a result of “snow covered conditions” as the MTO reports and occasional episodes of black ice.

Twenty years ago, tire manufacturers were keen on selling us “all season radial tires,” tires that these companies claimed would work as well in winter as well as in summer conditions.

Perhaps that works in some climates, but it certainly isn’t a match for a typical Northern Ontario winter.

The government of Ontario recognized this a few years ago when it reinstated the optional use of studded winter tires, but only for passenger cars and trucks in use in Northern Ontario during the late fall, winter and early spring seasons.

Studded snow tires were originally available in Ontario about 45 years ago, but were outlawed in 1970 because it was deemed the studs were doing too much damage to the pavement of the provincial highway system and then were redeemed 40 years later, but only for use in Northern Ontario.

This is certainly a very real statement by the provincial highway authorities that they recognize winter driving in Ontario’s North country is hazardous and that citizens should have the option of taking additional precautionary steps in the interest of their own and others’ safety.

To cite Quebec as an example once again, that province not only now requires the use of snow tires on passenger cars and trucks during the slippery season but drivers there have been able to add optional studs to their winter tires for further safety for nearly 50 years running. There was no 40 year hiatus when they were deemed inappropriate, as in Ontario.

A sad anniversary late last week was the marking of the sixth year since the driver of a 12-person van full of high school basketball players lost control of his vehicle en route back to hometown Bathurst, New Brunswick, returning from a game in a neighbouring community.

Seven young men were killed that night in addition to the wife of the van’s driver who was also the team coach.

The vehicle was equipped with those famous “all season radial” tires.

The fact is that many people still do not use proper snow tires, never mind the studs, for road conditions in our region that demands an aggressive, purposeful tread. The tragedy of the Bathurst basketballers is an extreme example of the folly of not equipping a vehicle for the conditions that Mother Nature can easily throw our way but it is an example, nevertheless.

Ontario should follow Quebec in making mandatory the use of proper winter tires, at least for vehicles that will be primarily driven in Northern Ontario.

In fact, such a requirement should cover the entire province as this year’s vigorous and unpredictable weather conditions would indicate as “winter driving” has been a nearly universal experience so far this winter season.

Those of a Libertarian persuasion would certainly complain about such an imposition but they, like the rest of us, are driving not in their own little bubbles on wintery roads but they or anyone who loses control of a vehicle on snow or ice endangers everyone else around them.

In light of the spate of winter weather related highway deaths in this corner of the North alone, Premier Wynne could easily make a universal requirement for winter tires a government initiative.

At the end of the day, virtually everyone is concerned about their family’s and their own safety so such a leadership move would be applauded by far more than the small group who would speak against it.

Other parties would in all likelihood stay mum on the issue lest they be accused of not favouring public safety.

Such an initiative would make winter driving in this province far safer for the whole population.