Matt Kimberley profile picture Matt Kimberley 5 years ago

My Near Miss Taught Me Summer Tyres Should Be Illegal In Snow

Driving around at 15mph just about in sight of the car in front is not an adequate solution for driving in snow. Sometimes, it takes a near miss to shake some sense into you

Remind me later
My Near Miss Taught Me Summer Tyres Should Be Illegal In Snow - Blog

As I write this I’ve just got back from a photoshoot with a new car in North Wales. It was just me, today; my drivers for the tracking shots went home last night, which meant I was driving the factory-fresh 67-plater.

Those of you who live in the UK but not underground will know it’s been snowing a bit in that part of the world. Quite a lot, actually, at least in British terms. The roof of my own car had about five inches of the stuff on its roof when I came to swap back to that.

My Near Miss Taught Me Summer Tyres Should Be Illegal In Snow - Blog

Don’t worry, this is going somewhere: the local council or councils had gritted the roads, but not enough. Nowhere near enough. The A5, for God’s sake, the main A-road into North Wales, was thick with snow and ice.

I haven’t driven with summer tyres on snow since the time I slid a regulation-shod Nissan GT-R around the ice-racing track Top Gear once used in the French ski resort of Val Thorens. They wanted to keep our speed down, the instructors said. Well, it was my decision this time. I’d been going slowly enough anyway, or so I thought, but when I attempted to stop (gently), I found myself skidding towards the back of a Mitsubishi Outlander. I wasn’t going to stop in time.

Sheepishly trying to brush off the fact that you’ve just got it badly wrong is not a good look. When I stopped I was on the wrong side of the road, level with Mr Outlander having very obviously just steered out of disaster’s icy grip. ABS-related code brown isn’t ideal, either.

My Near Miss Taught Me Summer Tyres Should Be Illegal In Snow - Blog

The next few miles passed by in a terrifying realisation of just how little grip those ice-bottomed, slush-topped surfaces actually had. Repeatedly I’d brake to test the grip levels, and every damn time the summer tyres would instantly lose grip, the wheels locking as soon as pad bit disc. It took a whole heap of repeat tests to convince myself that it really was as bad as it seemed.

When it snows, summer tyres suck. Hard. The car I was photographing (and driving) was a big 4x4. You definitely notice the extra traction, but braking grip? None. It was like trying to stop yourself sliding down a massive water slide only to find it’s been greased.

There I was, slipping down the road like a buttered otter. And now here I am, hopefully warning at least one person before an accident happens. I saw at least 10 near-misses on one two-hour drive. How many hits were there? Enough to keep insurance companies busy, I reckon.

My Near Miss Taught Me Summer Tyres Should Be Illegal In Snow - Blog

Those tyres were so unfathomably woeful on snow that I can only reach one conclusion. Summer tyres should be illegal in sub-zero temperatures, or at least on ice or snow. If you ever find yourself on a surface with the friction coefficient of a wet cat coated in lard and there’s a 7.5-tonne truck six inches off your bumper, you’ll think so too. Sure, everyone on summer tyres could just drive at 15mph a quarter of a mile off the car in front, but, err, no?

Winter rubber is already a legal requirement in parts of Europe, and it’s a heavily encouraged one in others. In Germany there’s the ‘von O bis O’ rule, or ‘from October until Easter.’ It’s recommended that drivers switch to winter tyres for that whole period, and if you’re caught without them in icy or snowy conditions then it’s fine-time for you, miladdo.

My Near Miss Taught Me Summer Tyres Should Be Illegal In Snow - Blog

Compare the summer-booted press car with my own, later that day. My workhorse wears Michelin CrossClimates (bought at retail price, before you suspect a press blag). I cleared the inches of snow off and made sizeable ridges on all sides of the car, which was facing uphill. The front-wheel drive car, in first gear, pulled itself up and out of its snowy boundary without so much as a quick slip of a front wheel. If it could have become a meme it would have turned to me and sprouted a joint and sunglasses.

Do the world a favour. If you live somewhere where it snows, even occasionally, think about winter tyres or a best of both worlds compromise like the Michelins. If you don’t, one day you might end up getting a very close look at the back end of a Mitsubishi.