Winter Driving in Alberta

Firstly, I would like to address a concern that has recently been discussed in the media regarding the mandatory use of winter rated tires in the Province.

Alberta is a Province where winter arrives in late October. This brings variable road conditions that the various jurisdictions attempt to ameliorate through the use of a variety of physical and chemical means. Albertans have grown to expect a “black road” policy where the pavement is cleared and all ice and snow have been removed.

Our sister Province to the west has a somewhat different approach allowing for a build up of compact snow on the highways. Loose snow is removed, and sand is applied to corners for traction. BC has also implemented a policy requiring the use of winter rated tires through most of the Province. The drivers have learned to use these roads in this condition.

Our Sister Province to the east uses a program of snow removal that I have “jokingly” referred to as “July”, meaning that highway maintenance is minimal at best. No tire requirements are in place there.

To my knowledge, there are no plans for a mandatory winter tire requirement in Alberta. I would propose that such a requirement be brought into effect. This would allow for better control of vehicles on our streets and highways. Better control can result in lower medical and crash costs for our Citizens. Failing the Province wide implementation of this type of requirement, there should be a requirement that ALL rental vehicles be equipped with winter tires between November 1st and April 30th. Considering that many rental vehicles are used by people from outside the area, this will help to give a safer road to drivers inexperienced with our winter weather.

My second point falls within this same winter road condition situation.The majority of Provinces to the east of Alberta have changed the warning lights on their snow removal equipment. Previously, this equipment was indicated by the use of amber flashing lights in various configurations. Provinces to the east have changed this marking to include both amber and blue flashing lights. This helps to differentiate different emergency vehicles that can be found on the roadways.  School buses have a white strobe light, Police vehicles have red and blue lights, and ambulances have red and white lights. All these light configurations help to identify the vehicle that may be operating in the vicinity of the motoring public, giving an alert driver a better chance to react appropriately.

Pat Cuthbert – Infrastructure and Transportation

Comments 4

  • This is an excellent transportation safety article that I can relate to.

    I have discussed the issue of winter tires both with the NDP and the Mayor of Calgary and they are against mandatory winter tire safety. I also talked about the winter tire issue on the CBC’s The 180, discussing a near miss I had with a car that had summer tires that could not make a corner, sliding in front of me just a few feet and rolling over in a ditch. Luckily no one was hurt but there could have been a major killer accident as a result of this person’s illegal negligence related to not driving with winter tires while driving on the Trans Canada Highway in Yoho National Park. This is just one of many near misses I have experienced in winter over my life time.

    As even the past Conservative Government rein ignored the winter tire issue for about 40 years, it looks like the Alberta Green Party is the only party concerned about winter tire safety.

    If someone smashes into your vehicle in winter, check to see if they have good winter tires. If not, take pictures of their tires. Let their insurance company know by sending the pictures as well.

    Make way for safer winter roads. Drive with winter tires carefully.

  • Thank you for your comments Jim. You bring forward the very important point that by having tires rated for the winter conditions found in an area a driver can often avoid becoming involved in a crash (I hesitate to use the term accident as this suggests that there was no way to control the result).

    A Society that shows concern for others in society would not need to have this as a legislated requirement. We would do it simply because it was the right thing to do.

    We still have a long way to go to educate People regarding rights and obligations in a truly functioning society. Doing what is right should become the norm, rather than the exception.

  • I arrived in Saskatchewan in the middle of a blizzard on 24 March 1971. My new boss had driven from Saskatoon in a SK Gov’t car with winter tires (I think!) and there were enormous star-shaped icicles on the hubcaps. Very impressive for a new immigrant.

    When I bought a car shortly after that, it came with (then) standard bias-ply tires and rear-wheel drive. It was almost uncontrollable in winter. The next winter, and ever since, I have had winter wheels and tires on my cars and few incidents of leaving the road. The only crash was when I was rear-ended on ice by a VW Beetle and the damage to front of the bug was extensive!

    It is costly to buy wheels and tires, but reduced insurance premiums and increased mileage on each set of tires makes it worthwhile, as well as giving peace of mind. I also prefer all-wheel drive and the last rear-wheel drive car I owned was the car I first bought in SK in 1971. BTW, you really need all of those ‘advantages’ to drive on Calgary residential streets in winter, at any speed!

  • There is no question that the switch of tires in the shoulder seasons should be mandatory. The amount of damage society would save by this enactment would be significant. BC has a good program, and the companies that act on this are busy. Very busy. But it is worthwhile on other levels. Vehicles that have the change are inspected when changing the tires – any opportunity for a professional to inspect a vehicle at any point in time is a bonus safety procedure. If the program were legislated the cost of the switch over in the shoulder season would be reduced as a byproduct of volume. It saves lives, it saves money. The enforcement of such legislation should not have to be punitive. For example, at road checks a driver who has neglected to change the tires can be offered the opportunity to change tires within a very short period of time with the threat that if such a change does not take place a license will be suspended. The cost of road checks could be built into a fee at point of purchase. The logic being fought in Alberta is that few people pay too much attention to long term investments – which is why Alberta is so readily accepted as a boom and bust economy. It does not have to be that way, it never had to be that way. Regardless if this is a good or bad policy strategy for the Green Party of Alberta in the eyes of the voter, the Green Party of Alberta should campaign on the promise to legislate winter tires because it is the right thing to do for safety and for the economy. This kind of policy should be leading into an equally important societal enactment: build autonomous vehicle networks and capabilities as rapidly as possible to further reduce the danger of driving and increase the efficiency of transportation drastically. There is no reason Alberta can’t be a leader in this technology that is sure to change society radically for the better.

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