The Journal Gazette
Sunday, December 01, 2019 1:00 am

On snow, ice, good tires vital to safety on roads

DAVE GONG | The Journal Gazette

It's a common occurrence: A snowstorm hits and your car slips and slides with the loss of traction, as if the road were paved with bananas from a Mario Kart video game.

Some northeast Indiana residents came to realize that when winter weather – a snowfall of about 3 inches – came in mid-November. As ice and snow coated Allen County roads, fall leaf pickup operations throughout Fort Wayne were delayed. But as any Midwesterner knows, the area is likely in for more snow and ice in the coming months. As you prepare for slick conditions this season, it's important to make sure your tires are in top shape.

Tires sometimes get overlooked – until they go flat – and some drivers wait too long before replacing them. Bald tires are dangerous to drive on, especially in the winter. Cold temperatures have a profound impact on tires and can decrease their effectiveness at gripping the pavement.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 738 people died nationwide in 2017 in tire-related crashes. Tires are considered unsafe when treads wear down to two-thirty-seconds of an inch and should be replaced, the federal agency states. The Fort Wayne Police Department does not keep data related to crashes where unsafe tires were a factor, spokeswoman Sofia Rosales-Scatena said.

Vedran Duras, a manager at a Fort Wayne Discount Tire store, said he sees more customers with tire issues in the winter than other seasons. People don't necessarily realize how bad their tires are until the weather changes. Potholes and road damage from plows can also damage tires.

“There's a lot more abuse on the tires, particularly (in the winter),” he said.

Tire inflation and tread depth are the two key components to keep in mind in the winter, Duras said. When it's cold, it's best to add a little more air to a tire to offset any loss of pressure, he said, noting that every time the temperature drops 10 degrees, a tire can lose about 1 pound per square inch of air.

“In wintertime, depending on if it's consistently under 32 degrees, (Discount Tire inflates) +3 psi to offset the loss of air pressure,” Duras said.

As tires begin to wear down, they start to lose their ability to grip the pavement, Duras said. The biting edges in the tread blocks don't have as much grip, increasing the distance it takes to safely stop a vehicle, he added.

In tests performed by Consumer Reports in 2018, snow traction declined by 14.5% and stopping distances in wet conditions increased by 7% using tires with half of the tread depth left. Tires with half of its tread depth left showed an 8% loss in hydroplaning resistance, as well, the organization found.

An easy way to check if your tires have appropriate tread depth is to place a penny in the tread with Abraham Lincoln's head upside down. If you can see the top of Lincoln's head, it's time to replace the tire. Tires also have indicators – raised sections that run in between the treads – that indicate wear. If a tread is level with the indicator, replacement is necessary.

Some stores, including Discount Tire, will check tread depth and tire inflation for free.

When winter comes, if you can afford it, it might be best to invest in a set of winter tires that drivers can swap for their all-weather ones when the weather begins to change. When temperatures drop to 45 degrees or lower, standard all-weather tires begin to lose pliability and traction as the rubber starts to harden, Duras said.

“(Winter tires) are more pliable and help with gripping cold-weather snow and ice,” he said. “They also have significant stopping capability in a panic situation versus all-weather tires.”

In 2017, Consumer Reports found snow tires provide better grip in snow and stop on icy surfaces. However, some winter tires can be noisy and leave scratch marks on driveways.

Duras added that winter tires provide between 25% and 50% more traction than all-weather tires.

“I know my wife and all my family members, we all run winter tires,” he said. “It goes to say, once you run them, you won't run anything else but winter tires in the wintertime because of the difference in safety and comfort when you have them.”

But investing in winter tires may not be possible for everyone, so there are ways to make sure your all-weather tires remain viable and safe. Drivers should check air pressure once a month and rotate tires at least every 6,000 miles to ensure they wear evenly, Duras said. Once tires are 6 years old, they should be replaced, regardless of the tread wear, he added, because they will begin to break down and deteriorate.

Most tire shops carry various options for any vehicle make and model, so drivers should be sure to shop around for the solution that works best for them. Prices will vary depending on size and the brand.

Of course, regardless of whether you're driving on all-weather tires or snow tires this winter, it's also important to remember to slow down and be cautious when Old Man Winter decides to dump snow and ice.

Distracted Hoosiers

Indiana drivers were found to be some of the least-distracted in the nation, a report from LendingTree's QuoteWizard found.

According to the study, Indiana ranks 43rd in distracted driving incidents, with 185 fatalities attributed to distracted driving from 2013 to 2017. That comes to 3.14% of the state's total number of traffic fatalities over the same five-year span. Of Indiana's neighboring states, Michigan was the only one to score better, at 44th, with 209 distracted driving fatalities from 2013 to 2017, representing 2.95% of the state's total traffic deaths. Illinois and Ohio both fared worse, ranking 40th and 37th, respectively.

The study, which used fatality data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, ranked states from highest to lowest, with 1 representing the state with the highest percentage of distracted driving fatalities, to 50, which represents the state with the lowest percentage of distracted driving deaths. Mississippi had the lowest rate of distracted driving deaths in the country, with 54 over five years, or 1.26% of the 4,260 traffic fatalities that occurred in that state between 2013 and 2017.

Complete results can be found at

Reader question

Q. How much longer will it take to complete the road project on Washington Center Road and St. Joe Center Road? They work very slowly on it. – Anonymous

A. The project spans two seasons and will wrap up in the next two weeks for the winter, Public Works spokesman Frank Suarez said. That project is between Clinton Street and Campus Court, near Bishop Dwenger High School, and will add center turn lanes, drainage improvement, sidewalks and lighting. It's expected to be completed next summer, he said.

Road Sage is a monthly column. Dave Gong, The Journal Gazette's local government reporter, provides updates on public works projects in the Fort Wayne area. Submit a question by emailing or tweeting @JGRoadSage.

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