Snow regrets

Winter tyres can make light work of otherwise treacherous conditions

“I love it when a plan comes together,” was the catchphrase of the cigar-chomping A-Team leader, Colonel John ‘Hannibal’ Smith.

As opposed as I am to plagiarism, it was too perfect a summation of the situation to avoid using when I opened the curtains to discover a layer of snow at the beginning of the recent ‘cold snap’.

Realistically, it was a relatively light dusting. However, it served as a vindication of the decision to have a proper set of winter tyres fitted to the car.

As the clocks were changed at the beginning of winter I had a set of Continental’s ContiWinterContact TS 800 tyres popped on to a spare set of wheels, sourced cheaply on internet auction site eBay, stowed the summer tyres and original wheels and sat back, waiting for the snow.

It wasn’t me who would get to give them their first trial by winter, but my partner came back from an early start grinning ear-to-ear and describing the looks of bemusement on the faces of stranded drivers as she casually sauntered past on snow-bound country lanes that had left them floundering.

Equipped with the Continental TS 800s, the humble run-around has not put a foot wrong throughout this spell of Arctic conditions.

So I’m sure, like me, other drivers who have fitted their cars with the appropriate foot-wear for the season will have been shocked, confused and dismayed (in that order) by the comments of Philip Hammond MP, Secretary of State for Transport, when he told the House of Commons that winter tyres were not appropriate for use in the UK.

Unsurprisingly, the politician has been slammed for his comments, which safety campaigners believe show the Secretary of State for Transport doesn’t have a handle on modern automotive technology and the safety benefits of such tyres – benefits that make them a legal winter requirement in some European countries.

“Mr Hammond’s comments show a complete lack of understanding about modern winter tyres which are the ideal solution to the type of weather we are currently experiencing,” said Stuart Jackson, chairman of TyreSafe, a charity that campaigns for increased awareness of the role tyres play in road safety.

“Studless winter tyres are designed to provide much better grip over the entire winter period, not just for when people are driving for long periods on compacted snow as he implied. They do not damage road surfaces in any way and are wholly appropriate for the UK situation.”

Hammond’s comments that winter tyres wear out quickly were also greeted with an exasperated shake of the allegorical head. Although their specially designed compounds mean they offer the best traction and performance below seven degrees C, such tyres can comfortably be used year-round.

The figures speak for themselves. “Tests conducted by the British Tyre Manufacturers Association found that a car braking at 60mph on a wet road at five degrees C stopped five metres shorter, equivalent to more than one car length, when fitted with winter weather tyres,” said TyreSafe.

“The car equipped with winter tyres stopped 11 metres sooner on ice and eight metres sooner on snow, from just 20mph.”

The Secretary of State for Transport would do well to conduct some testing of his own, or at least get his facts straight, before misleading the public with safety information that, frankly, could not be more wrong.

By Richard M Hammond

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