Winter is here and millions of drivers may unknowingly be at risk of losing control of their vehicles. About 70 percent of winter injuries and deaths related to snow and ice occur in automobiles, according to government statistics. But even with antilock brakes, traction control and vehicle stability systems, many vehicles are not fully prepared to handle winter driving conditions.
"While summer-only tires require 367 feet to stop from 50 MPH, winter tires require only 196 feet."
In fact, a recent demonstration at The Tire Rack, the largest source of tire and wheel information in the U.S., showed that anti-lock brake (ABS), traction control (TCS), and vehicle stability systems do not actually increase traction, and that All-Season and Summer-only tires are ineffective on packed snow and ice. About 80 percent of new vehicles are equipped with All-Season tires, and the remaining 20 percent with Summer-only tires.
Acceleration tests showed that rear-wheel drive passenger vehicles equipped with winter tires benefited from up to 40% more traction on ice, and that the capabilities of all-wheel drive SUVs could be improved by 28 percent over their original equipment summer tires.
"All-Season tires are a compromise intended to provide acceptable traction and performance traits under the widest variety of possible conditions," said Matt Edmonds, Tire Rack Vice President. "Drivers falsely assume that this includes sufficient traction for winter weather, but as these tests clearly demonstrate, this is not the case." He further advised, "Consumers also share the misconception that winter tires are expensive, but a good set of winter tires can be had for as little as $300 -- far less than the potential costs of an accident."
All-Season tires feature tire tread designs and rubber compounds engineered to provide extended mileages and durability in warm weather, but are less effective in winter's freezing temperatures and on ice. And Summer- only tires are not intended to be driven at all in cold temperatures. But Winter tires deliver significantly better performance because their tread designs and rubber compounds are specifically engineered to maximize traction in snow and ice, while remaining flexible in colder temperatures.
The demonstration complemented tests conducted in Europe. Those tests showed how on snow covered roads, Winter tires can cut braking distances by 47 percent when compared to vehicles originally equipped with Summer- only tires. While a car equipped with Summer-only tires required 367 feet to stop from 50 MPH, the same vehicle equipped with winter tires required only 196 feet. Even when the temperature was above freezing, Winter tires were also shown to reduce braking distances. At 44 degrees Fahrenheit, on a road as wet as might be experienced during a snow melt, the braking distance from 56 MPH to 0 was reduced by 15 feet -- a full car length.