Studded tires. Photo by Iolaire McKinnon/Flickr
Jeff Bernards gathers signatures from people entering a holiday craft market in Salem. Photo by Chris Lehman
In the winter driving season, there's a sound on Northwest roads that represents safety to some. To others, it signifies wear and tear on the region's highways. We're talking about the sound of studded tires.
One activist in Oregon is collecting signatures for a measure that would do away with studded tires for most vehicles.
Jeff Bernards is a man on a mission. But not everyone is receptive to it.
"You guys want to sign the initiative to get rid of those studded tires in Oregon?" he asks?
A passerby answers, "No thanks."
"Come on, you hate riding on the ruts as much as me," Bernards responds.
Bernard has turned his compact car into a billboard on wheels. And when he gathers signatures, he hangs a sign around his neck and dons a hat that might graciously be called "festive."
In just minutes at this holiday craft market in Salem, the Portland man has filled up several pages with signatures from people like Julie Merrick. She says studs rips up roads, and, "I am not so sure that they really work. I don't think that they save your life or make your driving safer."
Most winter driving studies reach that same conclusion, with one exception. In certain icy conditions, studs can offer better traction than studless winter tires. On snowy or wet roads, studs offer no advantage.
But whether studded tires work is almost beside the point for Jeff Bernards. He remembers speaking to a group of skiers.
"When I spoke, I said, hey I'll bet 98 to 99 percent of the time you're driving on dry pavement, and aren't using the studs," Bernards says. "And the room went quiet, and not one person opposed what I said."
A 2000 study by ODOT found that just 16 percent of Oregon drivers use studded tires, though the rate topped 40% in parts of eastern Oregon. That same 2000 ODOT study concluded that the little pointy metal bits chew up $50 million worth of pavement and concrete each winter. And ODOT says it only has enough cash to repair about one-fifth of the damage caused by studded tires each year.
But as for taking sides?
"ODOT cannot and will not take any position on any particular initiative," says ODOT spokesman Dave Thompson.
"What we can do is tell you exactly what we've been saying for years and years and years: Studded tires cause damage."
ODOT recommends drivers who frequently encounter snow and ice use either chains or non-studded winter tires. But studded tire users say those alternatives just don't cut it.
Take Pat Ryan.
"My wife drives a nice Prius, which she keeps clean," he says. "This is the dog hauler here."
Ryan hauls his dogs around the Cascade foothills southeast of Sandy, Oregon. We climb into his Toyota pick-up for a quick drive around the neighborhood. It's a bright, sunny morning.
But danger still lurks around nearly every bend in the road.
"You can still see frost wherever there's shade at 11:30 in the morning," Ryan says.
Ryan says studded tires protect him and his wife on days when there's black ice or hard-packed snow. That's why he's deeply opposed to a ban on studded tires, even though he knows they damage the road.
"I feel that I need the safety that is provided by studs, and I'm willing to pay for that," he says. "I am perfectly happy with them charging me more. I'll pay ten bucks more a tire or whatever, so that whatever damage I'm doing is ameliorated by me paying for it."
A ban or a fee on studded tires has repeatedly come before the legislature — 16 times in the past decade alone — though none of those bills ever came up for a vote. If the ban makes it to the ballot, it's not clear how the tire industry will react.
Oregon-based Les Schwab says it isn't taking a position on the proposed ballot measure. But the company repeatedly challenged the wording of the petition. And a company spokeswoman said Les Schwab is "committed to providing customers with a selection of tires to choose from."
On the Web:
Initiative Petition #16: http://www.sos.state.or.us/elections/irr/2012/016text.pdf
Anti-studded tire campaign website: http://preservingoregonsroads.org/
ODOT's 2000 study on studded tires: http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/CS/FS/docs/other/STUDDED_TIRES.pdf
Studded tires vs. non-studded winter tires:
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