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Cold weather tyres: Save lives, cut costs

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Is it worth fitting cold weather tyres to vehicles during the winter months? That’s the question vexing company fleets up and down the country following two harsh winters.

Take-up is low – only 14% of the 281 fleet operators who responded to a recent Fleet News tyre survey said they fit cold weather tyres. However, around a quarter (26%) are considering them.

Early adopters include British Gas, AAH Pharmaceuticals and a number of ambulance services (West Midlands, East Midlands and the Scottish Ambulance Service).

For each, keeping drivers mobile is essential; that’s not necessarily the case for all company car and van drivers, however.

Benefits of cold weather tyres

Safety is one of the main reasons to opt for cold weather tyres, although the boardroom decision is often made more on the financial grounds of keeping delivery or emergency service vehicles mobile.

Continental suggests drivers are six times more likely to have an accident during winter. During the ‘big freeze’ at the start of 2010, more than three million motorists had an accident and 45% had two or more near misses.

According to GE Capital Fleet Services, almost half of all insurance claims for accidents are made during the winter months.

While cold weather tyres can’t guarantee an accident is avoided, they offer much better performance than standard tyres during the winter.

Dave Crinson, national fleet sales manager at Michelin, says: “Cold weather tyres offer significantly improved levels of grip and reduced braking distances in cold, wet conditions as well as in snow and icy conditions.

“Compared to standard tyres, cold weather tyres can halve stopping distances on snow, potentially giving drivers the chance to avoid an incident.”

Figures from the British Tyre Manufacturers’ Association (BTMA) are more conservative but still show a significant improvement in stopping distances on the snow. A car fitted with cold weather tyres travelling at 30mph will stop in 35 metres compared to 43 metres with standard tyres (see panel right).

On icy roads a car travelling at 20mph will come to a halt in 57m using cold weather tyres compared to 68m with standard tyres.

Arguably of more importance from a safety perspective is the five metre difference on wet roads in the winter. A car with cold weather tyres travelling at 62mph will stop in 65.7m compared to 70.5m using standard tyres.

The BTMA suggests motorists will adapt their driving style when there is snow on the ground or temperatures drop below 0°C, but are unlikely to drive differently in cold, damp road conditions in the winter as visibly they are no different to damp conditions at other times of the year. “It is potentially these latter road conditions which present the highest risks,” says the BTMA.

This highlights the benefits of fitting cold weather tyres for the entire winter period – typically October to March/April – and not just during snow or ice.

Survey respondents who fit cold weather tyres say they would recommend them to other fleet operators for safety reasons.

Comments include: “The main reason has to be safety”, “they really work and ensure increased safety” and “the better performance is remarkable”.

Some respondents comment that cold weather tyres are necessary for rear-wheel drive vehicles. One says: “We have a small fleet of rear-wheel drive vehicles that became useless in the winter snow. Once these had been fitted with cold weather tyres the tendency to become stuck or lose traction was drastically reduced.”

Mike Wise, managing director fleet at fleettyres24.co.uk, adds: “They significantly reduce the risk of accident damage, not just in high-speed incidents, but also in the far more common scenario of a driver scraping or denting a vehicle as a result of losing traction while manoeuvring in a car park.”

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