Maybe the title should be “What Grates My Ears”, because there is no automotive sound that more predictably induces a spike of cortisol than the clatter of studded tires on pavement. As they steadily chew up the roads in Maritime western Washington and Oregon, where it snows once every couple of years or so, it’s also the sound of idiocy, greed and government’s inability to act on the obvious. That so few are allowed to create so much public damage, is truly mind boggling, especially as it results in little or no actual benefit to them. The conditions under which spikes offer some possible benefit (sheet ice) exist about 1% of the time. Even then, the actual improvement under those conditions is only 10%! And contrary to the popular myth, spikes offer little or no benefit on snow, and are materially worse on wet pavement, which of course is what it is most of the time on the west coast. And it’s not just the millions in dollars ($17 million per year in Washington alone) in damage alone that’s the problem; spikes make the roads much more dangerous for everyone, including the spikers.
It first hit me on one of my not infrequent I5 shuttles to Portland, on a rainy day a few years back. My car kept wanting to hydroplane, even though it was only raining very lightly. I suddenly realized that the grooves cut into the pavement from studded tires creates a continuous trough where water collects and sits. And the car wants to naturally stay in this trough, like being trapped in trolley tracks. How many accidents happen because if this highly dangerous situation?
The folks behind me may think I’m loony, but I now always drive to the extreme left or right side of the lane, depending which lane I’m in, even in dry weather. The roughness of the chewed up pavement dramatically reduces the ride quality and increases noise in a small light car like my xB. But it doesn’t do much for my seething anger at the inability of government to ban the damn things.
Many European countries, Japan, and some forward thinking states like Minnesota have. And guess what: studless drivers are still getting around just fine. And it’s not like the majority of the population in states like Washington and Oregon wouldn’t be more than happy to see them go, since the bulk of them live on the western (mild and wet) side of the mountains; its a few greedy representatives that like to go skiing on the eastern slopes that have held up repeated attempts at legislation.
How bad is the damage? Asphalt roads with average daily traffic volume (ADT) of 35k reach a rut threshold requiring repair after seven years. And concrete pavement with an ADT of 120k is shot after eight years. In Southern California, there are concrete freeway pavements that date back to the forties. The ironic thing is that passenger cars normally create almost immeasurable damage to roadways; it all comes from heavy trucks. But the spikes chew away at the pavement (and my ears) like little beavers.