The study presented some interesting findings, particularly regarding winter tire adoption rates across Canada and the impact of COVID-19 on driver and consumer purchasing behaviour.
A key discovery was that 76% of Canadian motorists now use winter tires and in provinces outside Quebec (which has a winter tire mandate), usage has climbed from 65 to 69% in the last 12 months.
To find out what is driving this trend, as well as some of the other key factors regarding winter tire usage, adoption and education, Autosphere interviewed TRAC’s President & CEO, Carol Hochu.
Key takeaways from 2021 TRAC Winter Tire Report
Autosphere: What do you feel are some of the key takeaways from the 2021 TRAC Winter Tire Report?
Carol Hochu: Let me provide some of the numbers that struck me coming out of our report, a top three if you will.
First of all, nearly 70% of drivers outside Quebec are using winter tires, which is great news for wintertime road safety.
It appears that Canadian drivers are getting the message about the importance of winter tires. And we’re seeing that as the number of drivers using winter tires continues to slowly increase.
The second important number is that nearly 80% of Canadian motorists riding on winter tires say that those tires have saved them from a collision or injury.
The final (and important) number is that two-thirds of drivers cite protecting their family as the top reason for investing in winter tires. So clearly there are a lot of good statistics and some interesting results.
That being said, more consumer education is still required to achieve higher levels of winter tire adoption and convince those who do not use winter tires of the benefits of going with them.
Growth in winter tire usage
There has been significant growth in winter tire usage in provinces where they are not mandatory over the last 12 months. What do you think has driven that?
CH: I think we can chalk it up to the recognition on the part of drivers that winter tires can help prevent a collision or injury because of the superior traction and the shortened stopping distance that softer rubber compounds used for winter provide.
Additionally, I think that the messaging provided by TRAC and our annual campaign, as well as other government agencies and organizations like road safety groups, also helps. It does seem that there is a chorus of the convinced that winter tires are an excellent choice.
That said, we all still have to do a bit more work together to convince the remaining non-believers of the benefits of using winter tires.
Winter tire usage in Quebec
What are some real-world findings TRAC and Transports du Quebec have been able to conclude from the province of Quebec, now that winter tires have been mandated there for nearly 15 years?
CH: That is an excellent question.
Although we weren’t able to find some very recent data regarding that, if we go back even to a study from the Quebec Ministry of Transportation a couple of years after the program was first implemented, we did find some very interesting statistics.
First of all, winter road collisions decreased by 5%. Secondly, about 600 fewer people were injured annually in road collisions, and thirdly, deaths and serious injuries due to winter road collisions decreased by about 3%.
Based on those findings, we can conclude that there are positive benefits of legislating winter tires–a strategy that continues in Quebec to this day.
Do you feel this research and findings can also apply to other jurisdictions in Canada?
CH: I agree on that and certainly, there are those using winter tires who believe in their efficacy, and that’s something we have found across Canada.
The challenge that remains, of course, is converting the remainder of Canadian drivers that don’t use or don’t believe in winter tires.
Educating consumers on winter tire benefits
Speaking of that, what do you think are some of the most effective ways to educate consumers on the benefits of winter tires?
CH: From our most recent winter tire report, we found [and I touched on this a little bit already] that government agencies and road safety groups have not only been receptive to the messaging around the safety advantage of winter tires, but they’re part of the chorus that joins with us as we work towards increasing awareness and driver education.
Our collective efforts continue to encourage increased winter tire usage nationwide. Specifically, our ongoing research has shown that many key factors, including government mandates, financial incentives, and public awareness campaigns all play a very key role in educating Canadian drivers.
With regards to government mandates, we have Quebec’s winter tire mandate which requires winter tires to be installed on a vehicle from December 1 to March 15.
British Columbia also has a mandate that requires winter tires or chains on most routes and B.C. from the beginning of October to the end of April (unless you’re travelling on certain highways not located in mountain passes with a lot of snowfall).
In which case, the requirement ends on March 31. In terms of incentives, there are a few.
Both the provinces of Ontario and Newfoundland do require insurance premium reductions if winter tires are installed.
I was pleasantly surprised a couple of years ago when I reached out to my insurance provider here in Ontario and got a premium reduction for installing winter tires. Of course, there are going to be some terms and conditions, but it’s worth investigating and exploring if you live in Ontario or Newfoundland.
Then, of course, the Province of Manitoba does provide low-interest loans for the purchase of winter tires through the Manitoba Public Insurance Corporation.
So, when we look across Canada, we’ve got five provinces offering some initiative or incentive, or benefits for using winter tires.
Incentivizing winter tires
That’s very interesting. Do you think incentives like the premium reduction and low-interest loans to get motorists to use winter tires are a trend that’s likely to continue? And also, what about those drivers that don’t use winter tires, what did the survey reveal about them?
CH: The use of incentives is a trend we expect will continue, but the survey also revealed some interesting findings of those drivers that don’t use winter tires and some of the reasons they don’t.
Out of the three most common reasons:
The first was the belief that all-season tires are good, good enough which constituted 60%.
The next factor, at 28%, was cost.
The third reason was that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some motorists have reduced the amount at which they drive during the winter (21%).
Based on these findings, we do see there is a cost barrier to winter tire adoption. On the other hand, there are also potential cost savings associated with winter tires.
For example, a 2009 Swiss study that compared winter tires and all-season tires, concluded that alternating summer and winter tires throughout the year resulted in a 5% reduction in fuel consumption and 10-15% reduction in mileage performance when using winter tires, as opposed to sticking with all-season tires throughout the year.
Also, in addition to the premium reductions in insurance and low-interest loans, don’t forget that many tire producers also offer financial incentives on the purchase of a new set of winter tires.
So, I think that in this part of our study, I’ve concluded that drivers need to weigh the initial cost against the potential fuel economy, mileage, and life-saving benefits of investing in winter tires.
Key considerations for winter tire shopping
Speaking of savings, as well as pricing and purchasing. What do you think are some of the key considerations when it comes to shopping for winter tires from a consumer perspective today?
CH: I think one of the most important considerations for tire shoppers is seeking out those with the Three Peak Mountain Snowflake symbol, or 3PMS.
Tires that carry this symbol, meet or exceed transport Canada’s snow traction standards. Certainly, there are a couple of choices when it comes to winter tires.
You can have an all-season tire with the 3PMS symbol, or you could have dedicated winter tires which are primarily designed only for use in cold, wintery conditions.
If the first choice is the all-season tire with the 3PMS symbol, then that certainly meets the definition of a winter tire. These tires provide better traction than all-season tires without the symbol.
These tires are designed for year-round use and are a better option than a regular all-season tire, but it also depends on where you live in Canada. For example, they may not be the most suitable in the worst winter driving conditions.
A dedicated winter tire, on the other hand, has softer rubber compounds and provides optimal traction and stopping power even in the most frigid temperatures.
Effect of technological advances
How do you think advances in rubber compounding and tire manufacturing is changing both the performance and adoption of winter tires?
CH: Tires are a very complex product and tire manufacturers are always advancing and innovating and improving their offerings.
When developing a new tire, there are many performance aspects to consider. This includes traction, treadwear, and rolling resistance. These three factors tend to receive the most attention as they’re directly linked with safety, longevity, and fuel economy.
And in the tire world, these three factors comprise what is known as the performance triangle. So, if you have each of those three factors on each of the three tips of the triangle, you can appreciate that if you adjust one, it could very well have an impact on the other two.
From a tire manufacturer’s perspective, it’s always a bit of a compromise when it comes to making adjustments to one or more of those three factors in terms of performance.
When researching winter tires, one of the best ways is to go to your favourite Internet browser and plug in the name of your preferred tire brand, selecting the words “winter tires.” You might be surprised at just how much information there is out there regarding advances in technology and innovations taking place in the tire industry.
On a final note, I’d also like to mention the Three Peak Mountain Snowflake (PMS) symbols found on winter tires today.
This symbol is recognized by the Canadian government and is used to indicate that a set of tires meet the required safety standards for winter driving. Canadian federal regulations, under Transport Canada, mandate that all tires manufactured and marketed to perform in winter conditions must meet this standard, known in the industry as the ASTM F-1805 Driving Traction Test.
ASTM is an international standards organization that develops and publishes standards, so the tires that pass this requirement get to carry the 3PMS symbol.
In wrapping up this question, I would say that tire producers continue to advance, innovate and improve their product offerings, while at the same time, motorists can take comfort knowing that Canada has a legal framework for distinguishing winter tires.
As travel restrictions ease and Canadians start to drive more, how do you see winter tire usage and adoption trending in 2022 and perhaps beyond?
CH: Our 2021 survey found that 30% of Canadian drivers said they will continue to restrict their winter driving due to COVID-19.
However, that’s much improved over last year where among those surveyed at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, 65% of Canadians said they were going to drive less in the winter.
Based on these findings it does appear that we’re returning to pre-pandemic driving volumes. And, as someone who drives on the highway system in southern Ontario, I can assure you that driving volumes are increasing.
Hopefully, as the economy rebounds driving will return to pre-pandemic levels. Growth in this segment will likely continue to trend upwards as Canadians increasingly adopt winter tires.
The fact that winter tire usage is increasing is a testament to Canadians. They’ve done a great job and recognizing the benefits of winter tires and as a result, continue to equip their vehicles year after year.
CH: For those who are interested in learning more about the advantages of winter tires, I certainly invite you to visit our website—tracanada.ca.
On the home page, you’ll find a couple of important links, including our most recent winter tire report. And if you’re someone who enjoys learning by watching videos, then I’d recommend that you go to YouTube and search for Be Tire Smart Canada, which is our consumer initiative.
There, you can find all kinds of interesting tire information videos including those that focus on winter tires and winter driving. Last but not least, if you’re considering winter tires, I do recommend reaching out to your local tire dealer or retailer. They’re a valuable resource and there to help.
They can talk to you about the right tire options for you and your vehicle and finally; if you haven’t done it yet, you should change to winter tires now.
The cold weather has arrived [certainly here in southern Ontario], so you want to be prepared as well as feel safe and surefooted as you begin your winter driving season.