Road damage cited as reason for proposed action
Studded tires could become more expensive — at an extra $100 per tire, $400 per car — and be banned outright in six years, if a bill introduced in the state House of Representatives becomes law.
The proposed legislation, House Bill 1309, would increase the surcharge per studded tire from $5 to $100, make the sale of studs illegal starting January 2020, and completely prohibit the use of studded tires starting July 2025.
At a hearing on Jan. 31 in the House Committee on Transportation, bill sponsor Cindy Ryu (D-Shoreline) explained that her primary concern is the cost of maintaining roads damaged by studded tires. Since the quality of tires and of vehicle traction technology has improved, drivers now have other alternatives, she said.
Paying $400 for four studs would be “a tiny drop in the bucket” toward paying for the damage they cause, said Ryu.
With the current $5 fee per tire, tire dealers keep 10 percent, or 50 cents. The proposed legislation would lower the percentage retained by dealers to 1 percent, so they would keep $1.
A fact sheet presented to the transportation committee by Paul Parker, deputy director of the Washington State Transportation Commission, said studs cause $20 million to $29 million in damage annually to state highways, plus more to city and county roads.
In Okanogan County, traffic volumes aren’t high enough for road engineers to see damage from studs, said Okanogan County engineer Josh Thomson. But at a previous job in Spokane, Thomson said he did see wear-and-tear caused by studded tires.
Necessary for some
Sales staff at Les Schwab Tire Centers advise drivers about the safest tires based on where they drive and their individual needs, said company lobbyists who testified at the hearing.
Studs definitely provide better traction on snow and ice on front- and rear-wheel-drive cars, said Ryan Berg, a sales and service technician at Les Schwab in Twisp. With all-wheel-drive cars, studless tires generally work very well, and some people prefer them because they’re quieter, he said.
Like many people in the valley, Les Schwab salesperson Caity Mulhorn said she can’t get up her driveway, which is covered by ice from October through May, without studs.
“Especially around here — winters aren’t like what the used to be. We get snow, melt, ice,” said Berg. “Without studded tires, you’ll be slipping all over the place.”
Snowplows also damage roads, said Berg and Mulhorn, who watch as plow blades chip the pavement on the highway in front of the shop in Twisp.
When the $5 fee was imposed three years ago, it was estimated that up to one-fourth of Washington drivers use studs, but Les Schwab found the use is under 2 percent, and less than 1 percent in the Seattle area, said Pat Dunn, a registered lobbyist for Les Schwab.
Studded tires are still popular in the valley. In Twisp, Les Schwab sells more studs than studless tires, said Berg.
Efforts to educate drivers about other options appear to be working and “the problem is solving itself,” said Dunn at the meeting. The one exception is in Spokane and Spokane County, where weather, hills and tradition have perpetuated the widespread use of studs, he said.
Not only do studs create ruts in roadways, but they can also reduce road safety for all motorists because water can collect in those ruts, creating “dangerous driving conditions like hydroplaning and increased splash and spray,” according to the transportation commission fact sheet.
The fact sheet notes that studded tires perform better on ice than other tires, but says they are not as effective on snow.
Parker pointed to several snowy states in the Midwest that have banned studded tires, including Ohio and Minnesota. But when Rep. Morgan Irwin (R-Enumclaw) asked him if any of those states have “a Cascade Mountain range,” Parker conceded that they do not.
Rep. Keith Goehner (R-Dryden), whose 12th district includes the Methow Valley, asked about new technology for retractable studs. This technology is still in the conceptual stages, according to tire manufacturers.
Other lawmakers suggested shortening the time period when studs are permissible or imposing rules based on geographic areas.
An educational campaign in Spokane encouraging motorists to use other winter tires is ongoing. Dunn said they would like to have data from the second year of the campaign before making major policy decisions.
Others who testified at the hearing — all representatives of tire retailers and related agencies — agreed that more data is needed before making any decisions.
One speaker said the $100-per-tire fee would be burdensome for people on fixed incomes who rely on studs to get around safely.
“I’m hoping they figure something out. Lots of people in the valley and other parts of Washington that get a lot of snow rely on a studded tire,” said Berg.
A study conducted in 2002 for WSDOT found that studded tires have better traction on snow and ice when temperatures are near freezing, but are less effective at other temperatures. Studs have a shorter stopping distances on ice and, because they rough up the ice, the tires can provide a safety benefit for all vehicles. On the other hand, the tires generate dust particles by grinding up pavement that can create health problems when inhaled, according to other research.
Tire tests by Consumer Reports found some brands of studded tires had excellent snow traction and the shortest stops on ice of any winter tires. For drivers who don’t regularly encounter those conditions, the tests found other choices could be preferable.
The transportation commission fact sheet lists 15 states and territories, most in warmer climates, that have banned studded tires, including Alabama, Hawaii, Michigan and Puerto Rico. Twenty countries, including Belgium and Germany, have also banned the tires.
The studded-tire bill hasn’t been scheduled for action in executive session, which is necessary for it to proceed to a vote in the full House, said Jane Plant, senior legislative assistant for the transportation committee. If approved by the House, the bill would go on to the Senate. There are about two weeks left for representatives to take action on the bill, said Plant.
Studded tires were banned in Washington until 1969, when they were permitted year-round. Two years later, with one-third of vehicles using the tires, their use was restricted to November through April, according to the transportation commission fact sheet.
People can comment on the bill through the Legislature’s website at leg.wa.gov by searching for HB 1309.