Automotive

Studded snow tires cost lives, says study

Studded snow tires cost lives,...
Some 60 percent of Swedish drivers fit studded tires for winter, but research suggests they actually cost more lives than they save
Some 60 percent of Swedish drivers fit studded tires for winter, but research suggests they actually cost more lives than they save
View 1 Image
Some 60 percent of Swedish drivers fit studded tires for winter, but research suggests they actually cost more lives than they save
1/1
Some 60 percent of Swedish drivers fit studded tires for winter, but research suggests they actually cost more lives than they save

Studded tires are a popular choice in northern climes come winter, thanks to the extra grip they afford on ice and compacted snow. Some 60 percent of Swedish drivers fit studded tires for the colder months according to Sweden's Transport Administration, Trafikverket. But new research from Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden says they actually cost more lives than they save, and for reasons which may not be immediately apparent.

The key metric the researchers looked at was life-years. The researchers aren't counting the deaths incurred and avoided due to studded tires, but rather the years of life that are lost or saved. And where studded tyres are thought to save between 60 and 770 life-years in Sweden, the cost of their use is 570 to 2,200 life-years.

The major reason for this is the emissions caused by the studs' damage to asphalt roads, from which particles are thrown up. The research was particularly concerned with PM10 particulates, which have a diameter between 2.5 and 10 micrometers. Airborne particulates can cause respiratory diseases, heart attacks and even DNA mutations. They're considered a Group 1 carcinogen by the World Health Organization and the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

The impact of these emissions outweighs the benefits of use alone, the researchers say, accounting for between 66 and 77 percent of the total. The researchers also took into account emissions caused by the production of studded tires versus non-studded tires.

However, another significant factor is the mining of cobalt which is used in the studs. The most abundant source of cobalt is the Democratic Republic of Congo (DMR), where accidents in the small-scale mining industry are not uncommon, but poorly reported. The researchers think that, if anything, the impact of accidents is underrepresented in their research.

But cobalt mining also contributes to conflict in the region, which is another factor the researchers factored in. And the positive impacts of wealth flowing to DMR is hampered by the fact that that wealth isn't well spread – partly as a result of corruption.

Taking everything into account, between 23 and 33 percent of the negative effects of studded tires are felt outside of the countries where their benefit are felt. But few, if any, of the benefits are.

The researchers suggest that driving carefully, choosing good, non-studded winter tires, car and, where possible, taking other means of transport are good alternatives to studded tires.

"How you drive is important, and snow-ploughing and sweeping needs to be done properly," Chalmers University's Anna Furberg says in a press release. "Most cars today also have electronic anti-skid systems fitted, which make them safer to drive at higher speeds. But our study shows that there is more research needed concerning alternatives to studded winter tyres that don't cause these health issues."

The researchers say that future research could be strengthened by factoring in more affects on human health, but that these considerations are only likely to strengthen the already conclusive findings that studded tires do more harm than good.

The team's research, Live and Let Die? Life Cycle Human Health Impacts from the Use of Tire Studs, has been published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health and can be read in full online.

Source: Chalmers University

20 comments
paul314
Doing the calculations in terms of life-years alone seems misleading to me. There are certain places you simply can't go without studs during some parts of some winters. But the point about who benefits and who loses is well taken. Perhaps there is a way to reduce the use of studded tires significantly. (I would love a system that extended them only when needed, but that seems unlikely)
McDesign
That's really bizarre, forced logic to get a grabby headline. All of the "negative impacts" awkwardly linked to studs are conjectural, at best, and completely subjective. I hate that this type of stuff is represented to the public as "science", and is therefore assumed to be "good science"
guzmanchinky
Ok I love science, but this is over reaching to find a conclusion. You could argue the same thing about just about anything that is manufactured today.
Nahor
I don't really know anything about that subject but it feels very shaky to be able to measure the actual effect of "particles thrown in the air because of studs" or the effect of the "amount of cobalt used for the studs". I would think those amount are so tiny compared to all the other particles or cobalt usage that they would be within the overall margin of error. And how can they measure the lives saved by the existence of studded tires vs not? I never drive in snow but I would expect people would be less willing to drive without the studs, so what about counting the effect of getting less fresh food during winter and relying more on canned food? What about the driving speed effect, e.g. to reach a hospital more quickly? What about the particles thrown in the air because more plowing would be needed? Basically, my point is that it feels this study goes either too far or not enough into details to mean anything.
flyerfly
I live in a far north climate (65 deg north) and I am soooo sick of this PMxx.x fear mongering. If there is a forest fire then ok...it is natural, if the wind blows the silt off the river it is ok because it is natural. But if the wind blows dust off a road then STOP! Call in the PM hit squad and make regulations. If I start my wood stove then I am the devil...but if a forest fire starts then it is a natural process that should be left alone. This is like the new global warming chicken little stuff. People complain about breathing problems during the winter? Have they wondered if a good deal of that is because of super dry air (less than 40% humidity)? Nope...they don't it is always PM problems so that they can regulate and worry you to death. No, I am sick of it. Stop it. Give it a rest. Go live in your uber pure air bubble some place! I had an argument about pure air last winter with a guy that insisted that PM was damaging him...all the while he was puffing on a cigarette!
fb36
"The researchers aren't counting the deaths incurred and avoided due to studded tires, but rather the years of life that are lost or saved." Who cares about how many human lives saved? (Sarcasm!) This clearly looks like a case of "choose (or create!) your own metric to get the result you want"!
Jon Smith
NO way I'm giving up my studded tires during Wisconsin winters!!! But I don't think anyone can complain about this as mine are on my non-fossil fueled pedal-powered bicycle and don't damage the bike paths too much.
Nik
My first question, is, will particles of asphalt be thrown up, if the road is covered in ice or snow? Obviously not. So the next question is, what is the proportion of mileage by vehicles on asphalt that is not covered by ice or snow, compared that with? Without that answer, its not possible to make a sensible conclusion, and if non studded tyres also produce particulates, and far outnumber the studded tyres, world wide, then is the question even worth asking?
jd_dunerider
/gianteyeroll This is ridiculous!
C7 GT1
What about plastic studs, that is the type of stud that is alowed in Oregon(USA).