KENNEWICK, Wash. (March 15, 2004) — Intense lobbying efforts by the Northwest Tire Dealers Association (NWTDA) helped defeat three proposed bills in the Washington state legislature that, if passed, would have banned or limited studded tire sales.
House Bill 2576 and Senate Bill 6320 had proposed banning from highways tires that have a “block, flange, cleat or spike or any other protuberance of any material other than rubber” protruding from the tread. S.B. 5295 proposed a $15-per-tire fee on the sale of each studded tire and called for tire dealers to collect and send the fees to the motor vehicle fund.
Dick Nordness, NWTDA executive director, along with five tire dealer members of the NWTDA testified Feb. 2 on studded tires before legislators and convinced them to allow the bills to be defeated in committee. But Mr. Nordness noted that the “dead” bills could resurface again next year.
“It seems like every year we have to devote some of our time to this legislative process,” he said, pointing out that the association has been fighting proposed bans on studded tires for the past 25 years.
The proposal to place a $15 fee on studded tires was, he said, another attempt at banning studs since a motorist with an all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive vehicle would have had to spend $60 just to buy a set of four tires.
“Our argument there was that safety is only for those who can afford it,” Mr. Nordness said.
One of the NWTDA's advocates—Chuck McGee, president of Denver-based McGee Co.—submitted written testimony to the state house transportation committee's chairman opposing the proposed ban. Mr. McGee, whose firm is the U.S. representative for tire stud maker Ugigrip, cited recent studies by the Swedish Road and Transportation Research Institute (VTI) and the Engineering Department of Alaska that found tire studs to be a valuable safety device for motorists.
“VTI and Alaska documented that restricting tire stud usage will increase accidents significantly more than the cost to repair roads damaged by studs,” Mr. McGee wrote, noting that road rutting occurs in all states regardless of whether or not studs are used. If fewer than 10 percent of all tires are studded in Washington, he wrote, then it can be concluded that studs cause less than 10 percent of the state's road rutting.
Last year Alaska approved a $5 fee on tires with studs weighing 1.1 grams each or less. Dealers collect and remit the fees for the state, which puts the funds in its general fund.
Part of the problem with studded tires, Mr. Nordness said, is that Washington has two climates. The state's eastern half is impacted by the Cascade Mountain range and experiences more snow, ice and colder temperatures. The NWTDA for years has argued that motorists in the eastern half of the state need studded tires for safe driving on slippery, mountainous roads, but legislators blame studs for road damage.
Mr. Nordness said al-though the western half of the state has the most road wear, he believes fewer motorists in that region buy studded tires because of the milder climate, based on sales figures provided by NWTDA members.
The state department of transportation also had released “research” indicating fewer studded tires run on vehicles in western Washington. But Mr. Nordness dismissed that research as no more than a “parking lot survey” of vehicles equipped with studded tires.
“A lot of what they call road damage is simply wear because the state has grown a lot more than anticipated, so there are a lot more vehicles on the road than they anticipated when they built the roads originally,” he explained. “We're not saying that studs don't do some damage, but studs are being blamed for all the wear and that's certainly not true.”
Oregon also has tried in recent years to ban studded tires from the roads with similar bills proposing bans and fees on studded tire sales, but fortunately for the NWTDA, the Oregon legislature is not in session this year, according to Mr. Nordness. The association's advantage in the last session, he said, is the Oregon House transportation chair also is a tire dealer, and he chose not to hold hearings on studded tire bills.