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Should winter tires be mandatory in Metro Vancouver?


Should drivers in Metro Vancouver be required to switch to winter tires each year?

It's a question that gets asked every time a major snowstorm hits the Lower Mainland, filling up social media feeds with videos of vehicles sliding down icy streets.

Such a requirement is not without precedent. Almost all drivers in Quebec are required to have winter tires from Dec. 1 through March 15 annually. 

In B.C., many provincial highways have winter tire requirements from Oct. 1 through April 30, with fines of $121 for passenger vehicles that fail to comply. 

But the area to which it applies is not the only difference between B.C.'s law and Quebec's. The phrase "winter tires" means different things in different places, and calls to require Metro Vancouver drivers to install them should be specific about what, exactly, they mean.


The B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure has multiple posts on its website breaking down the differences between tire types, as well as what is and isn't allowed under provincial legislation. 

There are four types of tires that the ministry says are legally acceptable on routes that require winter tires. They are: studded winter tires, winter-rated tires, all-weather tires and all-season tires.

As the name implies, studded winter tires have metal studs to help them grip road surfaces covered in snow and ice.

Both winter-rated and all-weather tires have a three-peaked mountain and snowflake symbol on their sidewall. Winter-rated tires are designed specifically to perform best in temperatures below 7 C, while all-weather tires are designed to perform well in all temperatures, according to the ministry, which notes that all-weather tires don't perform "quite as well" in cold temperatures as their winter-rated counterparts.

The ministry says all three of those options are better than "all-season" tires, which are identified by the symbol "M+S" – meaning "mud and snow" – on the sidewall.

"The RCMP and the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure agree that for winter driving conditions, a tire with a 3-peaked mountain and snowflake symbol is the best choice," the ministry says on its website, before adding:

"The legislation as written accommodates M+S tires."

Quebec's legislation, by contrast, explicitly excludes M+S tires. Only tires with the three-peaked mountain and snowflake pictogram are allowed.


Quebec, of course, gets much more snow, on average, than Vancouver does. The Lower Mainland's relative lack of snow, compared to the rest of the province and most of Canada, has been cited in the past as a reason not to mandate winter tires.

When David Eby, then B.C.'s Attorney General, said he was investigating "whether the data supports" expanding B.C.'s winter tire mandate in 2020, his ministry told CTV News no changes were imminent

"Currently, winter tires are not mandatory province-wide in B.C. due to its varied weather," the ministry said at the time.

"Sixty per cent of all B.C. motorists drive in parts of the province where snow conditions are not common."

There's also some data to suggest that most British Columbians are changing to winter tires anyway.

A recent survey conducted by ICBC found 80 per cent of respondents saying they had prepared for winter by installing winter tires this year.

That total rose to 93 per cent among Southern Interior respondents, but even among residents of Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland, more than seven-in-10 said they had installed winter tires.

The survey data comes with some major limitations, however. First, it was conducted among respondents who are members of ICBC's "insight panel." The insurer confirmed to CTV News that the sample was not selected to be representative of the province's overall population.

Second, the survey didn't specify whether "winter tires" included all four types that are allowed under B.C. legislation or was limited to those with the three-peaked mountain and snowflake pictogram that the province says is recommended.

ICBC doesn't currently offer discounts to incentivize switching tires when winter comes.

"Driving without winter tires will not void your insurance if you have a claim," said spokesperson Lindsay Wilkins in an email to CTV News.

"It also won't mean you're automatically at-fault in a crash. However, if you get in a crash where winter tires could have helped, not having them may affect whether — or how much — you are at fault."

Winter tires – or the lack thereof – are not the only factor responsible for chaos on Metro Vancouver's roadways whenever snow falls. According to ICBC, police data from 2018 to 2022 shows the region sees a 60-per-cent spike in crashes caused by drivers going too fast for road conditions in January, compared to October, on average. Top Stories

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