Angus MacDonald calls for greater use of winter tyres

Improved official advice and insurance incentives would reduce winter standstills and accidents

The SNP’s transport spokesperson at Falkirk Council, Councillor Angus MacDonald has called for greater use of winter tyres and improved official advice or even legislation to make winter tyres compulsory from late November to early April. He has also called for car insurance companies to offer greater incentives to customers who use winter tyres.

A number of other EU countries have made the use of winter tyres a legal requirement and many offer specific winter recommendations. Councillor MacDonald believes legislation, or at least official advice, is necessary to encourage drivers to ditch summer tyres during the winter period. Difficulties experienced by drivers in recent days have been compounded by cars not having appropriate tyres, or minimum tread, resulting in lack of traction.

During the big freeze at the start of 2010, more than 3 million motorists in the UK had an accident and 45 per cent had two or more near misses according to a survey conducted by Continental Tyres.

Nearly half of all accident claims are made during the winter months. Motorists are unprepared for the wintry conditions when driving, and many are unaware that they can improve safety by switching to winter tyres.

Councillor MacDonald also believes official advice could be improved. The Highway Code has nothing on the subject of winter tyres, and only contains three entries on the subject of tyres in general. The addition of a line explaining how improved grip could be attained by using winter tyres, would improve motorists perceptions of winter tyres.

A document produced by the Highways Agency entitled ‘Winter Driving’ which was distributed to local shoppers by Central Scotland Police this weekend makes no mention of the benefits of winter tyres.

Councillor MacDonald, who is also the SNP candidate for Falkirk East at the forthcoming Scottish Parliament elections said:

“There is a general acceptance that winter tyres are safer to use in the winter months, and if we are to experience colder Scandinavian-style winters, as we have been over the past two to three years, then it will soon be the case that winter tyres are a necessity if we are to avoid the country virtually grinding to a halt every time there are significant falls of snow or below zero temperatures.

“It is imperative that car insurance companies offer some kind of incentive, with reduced premiums for motorists who use winter tyres. There is also a need for more official advice in the Highway Code and other official publications from the Highways Agency, highlighting the benefits of winter tyres.

“It may be that lobbying is required at European Parliamentary level for a change in tyre laws, therefore I have contacted Scotland’s two SNP Members of the European Parliament, Alyn Smith MEP and Ian Hudghton MEP to seek their assistance with lobbying the European Commission.

“The fact remains, as far as the UK government is concerned there is not likely to be any new legislation unless the EU introduces it first.

“The current problem is many motorists only change their summer tyres when the tread depth is down to the legal minimum, which is completely unsatisfactory in harsh winter conditions.

“First and foremost, fleets must be encouraged to get on board. Governmental advice and reduced insurance premiums for fleets and private drivers who choose winter tyres would be an ideal incentive to get people using winter tyres.

“Legislation has proven to be effective around the EU, and insurance incentives have the potential to create a similar effect. In addition, winter tyres would give drivers greater confidence when driving in tricky conditions.

“I look forward to a greater acceptance that winter tyres are a solution to difficult winter driving conditions and also look forward to all agencies, including insurance companies, working together to encourage wider use of winter tyres in the hope that in future, when winter comes with a vengeance, that the whole country doesn’t just grind to a halt.”

Technical advice from tyre manufacturer Continental on the use of winter tyres can be found below:

Winter tyres: what they are and why you should be using them during the winter months

There is a huge lack of awareness in the UK about winter tyres. Either motorists are not aware they exist or they think that the tyre can only be used during times of heavy snow or ice.

In fact, drivers will benefit from using winter tyres on slush, ice, frost and even wet roads. In fact any time the temperature dips below +7 degrees centigrade, you’re better off on winter tyres.


Unlike summer tyres (everyday standard tyres in the UK), winter tyres do not harden at lower temperatures. That means they give you a much better grip on the road and the ability to stop in a shorter distance, increasing your safety on the road.

What’s the difference between a winter and a summer tyre?

The rubber compound of a winter tyre is very different to a summer tyre. It is designed specifically to work in temperatures under +7 degrees centigrade.

What happens to a summer tyre when the temperature drops is that the tyre compound loses its flexibility, making it less grippy in low temperatures.

Winter tyres are made from specially developed compound with more natural rubber so they don’t harden when it’s cold, which means increased grip on the road and greater safety.

On ice and snow winter tyres provide grip that no summer tyre can match.  A vehicle fitted with winter tyres will come to standstill on a snow-covered road (from a speed of just 30mph) after 35 metres – with normal tyres the braking distance required is a further 8 metres (43 metres). That is another two car lengths.

Safety during the winter months:

Drivers are six times more likely to have an accident during the winter months, with the numbers rising further when snow and ice add an extra hazard.

During the big freeze at the start of 2010, more than 3 million motorists had an accident and 45 per cent had two or more near misses according to a survey by Continental Tyres.

Nearly half of all accident claims are made during the winter months.

Motorists are unprepared for the wintry conditions when driving, and many are unaware that they can improve safety by switching to winter tyres.

Winter tyres are a legal requirement in other EU countries such as Austria, Germany and Finlandand many offer specific winter recommendations. There is however, no legislation or guidance in this country and most people aren’t even aware of winter tyres. There isn’t anything in the Highway Code on the subject.

When should I fit winter tyres to my car?

It is recommended that you switch to winter tyres in the UK between October and April.

If you are reluctant to change tyres and have nowhere to store summer tyres when they are not in use, you are better off using winter tyres all year round.

Winter tyres are as quiet and comfortable as summer tyres and, thanks to sophisticated compound technology, do not wear any more quickly.

There is a slight trade off with stopping distances as a winter tyre does not stop as quickly in the dry as a summer tyre, however, on balance if it is not possible to switch tyres in the winter, experts say you are better off with winter tyres all year round. This is because the  difference  in  stopping distances of summer tyres in winter is far greater than for winter tyres in the summer.

Other winter safety tips:

* Visibility is vital. Keep your windscreen and windows clear
* Check your lights are clean and working
* Reduce your speed on slippery surfaces and avoid harsh braking or acceleration
* At low speeds use second rather than first gear to avoid spinning the wheels
* To slow the car change down and use  engine braking but  if you need to use the brakes apply them gently
* Increase the distance between you and the vehicle in front – in rain, ice and snow leave enough space to stop safely
* Allow up to ten times the normal braking distance, especially on motorways
* Check your tyres: The legal limit for tread depth on tyres is 1.6mm, but safety experts at Continental Tyres recommend a minimum of 3mm for wet weather safety. Ensuring tyres are correctly inflated will also improve your cars handling as well as saving you money.
* Put together an emergency kit, such as food, drink, torch and extra clothing, for journeys in severe winter weather, and keep it in the back of your car
* Plan ahead and allow enough time to get to your destination.

Copyright © Angus MacDonald MSP 2017

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