New road signs require West Coast drivers to have proper tires in the winter months to drive out of town. Carrying chains won’t cut it.
The B.C. Ministry of Transportation installed the signs on Highway 4 this year that require vehicles to be properly outfitted with winter tires or all-weather tread approved for mud and snow. To check whether your all-weathers qualify, look for the M+S symbol and the rubber snowflake icon on the tire. They need at least threeand-half millimeters of tread depth to be legal.
The new regulations went into effect Oct. 1, and last until March 31 annually.
Previous signage noted a requirement for winter tires “or” to carry chains. Traffic police found that even drivers with very poor tread could get around the regulations in court if they had any chains in their trunk, even chains that didn’t properly fit their tires.
“You’d have some guy and he’s driving around in a Toyota Tercel and he’s got a pair of truck chains in the back of the car,” said Cpl. Mike Elston, Central Island Traffic Services. “Now [with] passenger vehicles you have to have a relatively decent set of tires. If your tires aren’t great but you’ve got chains, that’s too bad.
“[Old] signage didn’t go along with what the legislation actually said,” noted Elston. The new signs are written in black and white, which indicates regulatory authority and requires compliance, he added.
Commercial vehicles are required to carry chains.
Some time in November, traffic police will be checking drivers on the Alberni Summit to the east and on Sutton Pass, between the Alberni Valley and the West Coast, for proper winter tire compliance.
Since stepping up enforcement over the past five years, Albernians typically have had excellent compliance with the regulations, Elston said, and that isn’t expected to change.
“It’s very, very rare that we ding someone on a tire issue,” he said. “Usually when we do, their [tires] are worn out. And we’ll take pictures and everything and say to people, ‘You know what, these tires, they’re done’.” Usually police will give a notice allowing for two weeks to get a proper set of tires, Elston said.
The penalty for not driving with approved tires for snow is $121. A set of snow tires or all-weather tires for an average midsize car can vary from about $400, to nearly $900 depending on the brand.
Elston said drivers who try to save money and buy only two tires for rear or front-wheel engines are legally compliant, but it’s not recommended for safety.
Curt Schmidt, assistant manager of Kal Tire in Port Alberni, said snow tires are much better than all-weather tires.
“My daughter has the best snow tires money can buy,” Schmidt said. “It’s about safety.”