Evidence now clearly shows that winter tires are superior to all other types of tires in winter driving conditions. Winter tires maintain elasticity at low temperatures allowing for better vehicle control in both braking and turning ability. Despite compelling scientific evidence, the law regarding the use of winter tires is in a state of flux in Ontario. The Court in Smith v Smith 2012 declined to rule on whether the failure to use winter tires is negligent, stating that they were presented with no authority on the subject.
Québec is the first province to legislate the mandatory use of winter tires. Since 2007, all Québec drivers are required to equip their cars with winter tires from December 15th to March 15th. The main concern of the Parliament of Québec in passing this legislation was road safety and decreasing car accidents in the winter. A major influence on Parliament’s decision was a study of collision data collected by Québec Police Organizations. This data revealed that while only 10% of the Québec population drove without winter tires, 38% of fatal and serious accidents that occurred during the winter involved at least one vehicle that was not equipped with winter tires. Meaning that cars not equipped with winter tires were strongly over-represented in severe winter accidents.
After two seasons of enforcement of the new legislation, Québec’s accident data shows the ability of winter tires to improve road safety and decrease accidents. A recent study conducted by the Ministère des Transports du Québec found a 36% reduction in Quebec, and a 44% reduction in Montreal, in persons killed or seriously injured during the winters of 2008/2009 and 2009/2010, when winter tires were mandatory, as compared to the winters of 2003/2004 to 2007/2008, when winter tires were not mandatory. Accordingly, in each of the first two seasons of its enforcement, the new legislation has prevented an average of 574 road accident fatalities.
Some European countries have also legislated in the area of winter tires. As of 2010, several European countries with winters comparable to Canada have made winter tires mandatory, including Sweden, Estonia, Finland, Romania and Slovenia. In Ontario, a national study conducted by The Canadian Press and Leger Marketing in 2005 found that 26% of winter accidents were attributed to the absence of winter tires. The Ontario Government has taken some recent measures to promote the use of winter tires, including the requirement that auto insurance companies provide discounts to drivers who equip their vehicles with winter tires.
Given the compelling evidence that winter tires are superior to other tires in terms of safety in winter conditions, the mandatory winter tire legislation in Québec, as well as many European countries, and the improved road safety statistics in Québec, it is clearly negligent to operate a vehicle in the winter months without first equipping it with winter tires.