It’s too bad a precise study of tire stud damage to roadways hasn’t been made and publicized. I find the figures presented in the University of Alaska study a little hard to believe. Alaskans understandably assume the worst, but a little reflection would reveal some interesting contrasts.
Often, several miles of highway have been resurfaced in a period of a week. Logic would indicate that the work, done by a single contractor in a short period of time, would evenly show the effects of studded tires after four or five winters of use.
A close examination, however, will usually show some sections of “rutting” for a few hundred feet, then a half-mile or so of nice level pavement, then possibly other spots of rutting. If studs did the damage, the damage would be consistent. Obviously, there are other factors involved.
One of these factors is compression of the road material where the roadbed is improperly compacted. Another is the quality of the surfacing material — some materials abrade or compact under weight more easily than others. The surfacing found on most of our roads is provided by the lowest bidder. The contractor usually strips the old surface, grinds and remixes it, and reapplies it to the new surface. This could lead to inconsistencies, but it’s a lot cheaper!
There is no doubt that studs increase road wear and rutting, but not nearly as much as they are blamed for. A higher quality (and more expensive) surfacing material with less plasticity would help. The “brown” surfacing that was experimentally applied at many intersections in Anchorage several years ago seemed to afford more winter traction, quieter ride and suffer less wear.
The new tire compounds found in modern studless winters tires furnish amazing traction — except on glare ice. Nothing seems to beat studs on glare ice, which is why you won’t find police and emergency responders clamoring to ditch their studded tires for the quieter, better-riding studless variety.
It would be interesting to see a survey of winter accidents in which the percentage caused by drivers with studs was compared to that caused by non-studded vehicles. An easy addition to the police report, and it might settle some doubts, one way or another.
— Don Neal
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