To change or not to change

To begin with I feel I should offer our readers an apology, which is a shame, but I’m going to address an issue that potentially faces Northern Europe, rather than Southern, and so may not appeal to everyone. Even among Northern countries some have tackled this particular seasonal issue whereas others have not, so far at least. I’m talking about tyres.

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Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Throughout much of Northern and Central Europe people either already have, or soon will, change out of their boring, drab black steel wheels into much flashier, fashionable alloy equipment. I refer, of course, to the debate about whether one should fit winter tyres in the winter? Come to think of it, perhaps the answer’s in the name but that would be far too simple and I’ve still got a whole article to write. Now, to call it a debate is perhaps too flattering, it might be more accurate to describe it as a few lone voices crying in the wilderness. The Motoring Journalists and automotive magazines all seem to be in favour, based on their experience driving cars equipped with winter tyres, the AA (the Automobile Association is the largest motoring organisation in the UK) appears to be suffering from a split personality, one A says ‘Yes’, the other A ‘No’. So not much leadership there! Rather unfortunate for an organisation whose purpose is to represent motorist’s interests and, presumably, provide advice and guidance. The insurance industry also appears to be suffering from a mild case of schizophrenia. There is a lack of consistency between companies regarding the necessity to report the use of winter tyres and, more worryingly, there was a recent radio report that implied some companies even make an additional charge when winter tyres are fitted. If true, this is most bizarre! It would seem reasonable for insurance companies to insist that winter tyres conform to the car manufacturer’s specifications but that should be all. By contrast, in Germany, a driver has to ensure their car has tyres appropriate for winter conditions, failure to do so can lead to a fine and the insurance cover being invalidated.

 

Legislation across the EU is totally confused. Some countries have very tight regulations, others little or nothing.

 

Ok, let’s look at the arguments, for and against. Well, why should you go to the effort and expense of fitting winter tyres:

  1. They provide better grip than all-weather (i.e. summer) tyres, at temperatures below 7oC and not just in snow and ice but, of particular importance in many countries, in wet conditions. This doesn’t just mean that you are less likely to skid and lose control, braking distances are shorter, as well – generally less than half the distance as that for summer tyres in similar conditions.

 

  1. At some point, insurance companies will find someone with a calculator who will work out that if a driver can retain control of his car better and has a shorter braking distance, not only will he have fewer accidents of his own but he’ll be able to avoid other people’s accidents more easily, as well. Ergo, drivers of cars fitted with winter tyres during winter months will have fewer accidents and make fewer claims and can be given a discount, as a reward.

 

And what of the arguments against:

  1. It’s too expensive to have two sets of tyres and wheels. True, there is an initial cost but each set is only used for about half the year and so lasts twice as long. Steel wheels aren’t very expensive and manufacturers often specify narrower winter tyres, which may be cheaper. The question of storage has to considered but, in those countries that do require winter tyres, retailers generally offer storage facilities at relatively little cost and send out reminders when the wheels need to be changed.

 

  1. We don’t have enough snow and ice to warrant the cost. Ignoring the fact that our last few winters generally seem to have been snowier and the gloomy predictions for climate change, countries in Northern Europe do have plenty of wet weather and temperatures of less than 7oC during winter months.

 

So, I think we can reasonably say that the case for winter tyres is proved. Come next autumn, then, we’ll all fit winter tyres and everything will be alright and we can all congratulate ourselves on a job done. Well, not really. Will people change voluntarily? No. Will any Government legislate in the near future? No. Is it likely that the EU will issue a directive? Probably not. Why bother to write the article then? It’s all a complete waste of time. Well, not necessarily.

 

In Britain, alone, since 1st January this year, there have been nearly 55,300 road traffic accident (RTA) casualties and 491 deaths, with an estimated direct cost to the UK economy of over £1.25 billion (nearly €1.5 billion). The indirect cost to the economy of disruption caused by accidents, time lost, time off due to injury, repair costs, etc., etc. will be even higher. What is the cost to your business, direct and indirect, of RTAs? How many RTAs have you suffered in the last year (not just cars but vans and trucks, as well)? How many were during winter months? How many could be attributed to adverse winter driving conditions? How many could have been avoided if winter tyres had been fitted to the vehicle? How much money would you have saved if your vehicles were fitted with winter tyres? And none of this takes account of human suffering.

 

Again in Britain, a number of van fleets have been trialling winter tyres with great success. These include Anglian Water and British Gas, both of which have to provide emergency cover to their customers, and Tesco that wishes to maintain food deliveries in all weather conditions. So, continuing to be able to provide high levels of service is also an argument for using the appropriate tyre equipment but also consider this: One of your drivers is involved in an accident that is concluded to be their fault and a significant contributory factor was that the vehicle didn’t have the appropriate, winter, tyres. As a consequence of the accident your employee, or maybe a third party, was badly injured and disabled. It could be judged, therefore, that your company owed a duty of care to its employee and was negligent in not fitting winter tyres. I’m sure you can imagine the potential scenario and if case law to this effect doesn’t already exist, I expect it soon will.

 

So think – To change, or not to change?

 

Written by Tim Lewis

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Tim Lewis

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