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Tire socks show promise for safer, less chewed-up roads

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on March 4, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
March 6, 2012 9:52 am

This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.

This is for anyone who has cursed and frozen while trying to wrestle chains onto their tires. And for those who don’t even try to chain up because it’s such a chore; they just take their chances when winter weather makes roads treacherous.

Thanks to legislation sponsored by Federal Way state Sen. Tracey Eide and passed last week, an alternative to chains and studded tires could become approved traction devices in Washington: tire socks.

These devices, which resemble big shower caps, wrap over and around tires and create traction in snow. They don’t damage tires and don’t make the vehicle vibrate. Invented in Norway – where folks know a thing or two about getting around in the ice and snow – tire socks are used in 35 countries and approved as traction devices for semi rigs in Colorado.

Tire socks are made by manufacturers in different styles. But online videos show they have at least one thing in common: They’re quite a bit easier to put on than chains.

One user estimated that tire socks could be installed in a few minutes, compared to up to 30 minutes or more for chains. That’s significant for truck drivers, especially, if it means they can avoid having to haul sets of those massive truck chains.

Putting on chains can be dangerous as well as messy. People chaining up have been struck by other vehicles on the side of the road. Reducing the time spent installing a traction device mere feet away from passing traffic would make the roads safer.

Tire socks have another advantage over chains: They don’t chew up pavement. It costs the state millions of dollars every year to fix roads damaged by chains and studded tires.

A downside is that tire socks should be removed when not driving on snow as they can be shredded on pavement. They’re recommended for occasional or emergency use and for speeds under 30 mph. That sounds about right for much of the winter weather we get in the South Sound, where traction devices are only needed occasionally, and for in-town driving.

Passage of Eide’s legislation starts a process that could lead to official approval of tire socks before next winter. They look to be a promising alternative to chains and could make the roads safer if people who otherwise don’t bother with traction devices decide to put on tire socks instead.

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