The Case for Winter Tires: One Personal Injury Lawyer’s Perspective

I’ll admit it that I am biased in my enthusiasm for dedicated winter tires; I’ve had a set of winter tires for every car that I’ve owned for as long as I can remember. But keeping my own preference aside, I want to outline why everything I’ve learned in my law practice supports this personal choice. And guess what – the discount offered by car insurers isn’t even the number one reason for doing it! There are at least six other reasons:

    1. We live, work, and most importantly, drive, in Canada, which deservedly has earned a reputation for cold and snowy winters. Anyone living in Southern Ontario is near one or more of the Great Lakes and the legendary lake effect snows that can be created. Anyone outside of Southern Ontario is, well, in an even colder and snowier place. All of this is to say that over a winter, no matter where you live in Ontario, driving in ice, snow, or slush, is a reality, not a possibility. If winter tires weren’t created for us, then who?
    2. Don’t get seduced by four wheel drive. Sure, it is great, and I have had four wheel drive on my own last three cars, but four wheel drive does nothing to help you stop. You might pull away from a snow bank easier or accelerate up a hill more safely because of your four wheel drive, but staying in your lane, or more importantly, stopping in time for that yellow light up ahead, is all about your tire grip, which you only get from dedicated winter tires. I can tell you from litigation experience that even when someone else causes a car crash in the winter, and my client feels completely blameless, the defence lawyer will ask probing questions about whether my client’s car was equipped with winter tires. Suddenly that car that turned left in front of you, who you thought was 100% to blame, is only 80% responsible, and you are not only criticized for being unable to avoid the collision because your all season radials couldn’t bring your car to a stop in time, you’re 20% at fault yourself in the civil action. Don’t give anyone an excuse to blame you, just get the winter tires!
    3. The “all season” label has done a huge disservice to the motoring public. It lulls regular folks into believing they have one tire that they can use every day of the year, when that is just not true. It is great tire for the auto makers to stick on the car as it rolls out of the factory, but that doesn’t mean that’s all you need for ever after. As I’ve always understood it, at any temperature below 7 degrees Celsius, the all season tire starts to get too hard and loses its grip. Do you expect to drive in conditions over the winter when the temperature will fall below this level? Of course you do, and if you didn’t think about it before, now you’ll have to…you can’t unlearn this crucial statistic.
    4. You can’t see black ice. What you can’t see, you simply can’t just decide to avoid. Even with signs warning that the bridge freezes before the road, you might encounter random ice, when the rest of your journey has been straightforward. Short of taking your insurance off the car and parking it in the garage for the whole winter, you will need the peace of mind that winter tires provide. If it prevents you from sliding through the stop sign, just once in a winter, isn’t that worth it!?! In fact, doesn’t that make it essential, rather than discretionary.
    5. Consider some of the financial implications, if you are a dollars and sense kind of driver. If you slide into another car and you are at fault, your insurance rates will be at risk of increasing. If you slide into a post in an icy parking lot, you’ll but your deductible at risk if you decide to fix your fender. That is likely $500.00 right there, well on the way to paying for the cost of your winter tires in the first place. Even if you don’t think you’ll ever drive too fast for the road conditions with your all season tires, you could just think of this as buying your second set of tires really early, so that you’re not really spending anything that you aren’t already committed to buying. Tires don’t last forever, but guess what, when your summer tires are stored in the garage, you aren’t causing any wear and you’ll find that they last much longer. Yes, you’ll spend a bit more money up front, but now, with two sets of tires, you’ll always have a safe driving experience.
    6. Quebec has made winter tires mandatory. Seems compelling to me.
    7. Ontario has created a financial incentive through insurance rate reductions that came into effect earlier this year on January 1, 2016. Many folks were already driving in winter conditions by that date and did nothing when the change came into effect, but now, with winter still approaching, consider taking advantage of the mandatory insurance discounted afforded by your purchase and use of winter tires. The Insurance Brokers Association of Ontario reckons that the rate reduction averages 2%-5%. I know with my own auto insurance that my rate reduction is 5%. I do recommend that you shop around. Year over year, this can add up so that the tires essentially pay for themselves (along with point 5 above too of course)

Andrew Murray

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