Ready for the cold season?
The mandatory use of winter tires or the presence of snow-chains on board begins, in several Italian regions, on November 15, and will last until April 15. This is not simply a matter of regulations and possible sanctions, it relates, first and foremost, to road safety. Fabio Bertolotti, director of Assogomma, takes us through rules and legal measures
Would you walk on ice with flip flops? Probably not, just as we should not venture out on frosty roads with our car wearing the wrong "shoes". As the cold season approaches, so does the obligation to fit winter tires or have snow-chains on board if one circulates with summer tires. According to National regulation the mandatory period starts on November 15 and will last until April 15, but in some areas, with particularly extreme climatic conditions, this interval may lengthen, as in the case of Valle d'Aosta where the mandatory period kicks in a month earlier, a necessary measure in the case of an unexpected early snowfall. Local rules, on the other hand, should be issued in accordance with the facsimile attached to the specific ministerial directive, so as to ensure uniformity of rules throughout the territory.
Starting from 2010, Law 120 introduced what appeared to be a mere lexical change: the word "snow tire" was substituted by "winter tire". In reality, this meant that the tire was suitable for the whole winter period and not just in case of snow. This change was later confirmed in a legal provision implemented following the European regulation 117. Basically, some tires bear the M+S marking, with or without the Alpine pictogram, and are to be considered "winter tires", while others do not display these markings and should be considered "regular tires" (better known as "summer tires"). In legal terms there are no other categories. Technically speaking, explains Assogomma's director Fabio Bertolotti, "a winter tire is able to significantly improve safety when temperatures fall below 7 degrees C. At 90 km/h a car with winter tires can reduce braking distance on wet roads by 20 % compared to an identical vehicle equipped with normal tires. In case of snow, at a speed of 40 km/h, the reduction may be as much as 50%".
How to chose them
According to the Highway Code, all tires with M+S markings (mud and snow, sometimes also referred to as MS or M&S) with or without the Alpine pictogram, also called 3PMSF or three peaks mountain snowflake (an image of a three-peak mountain with a snowflake in the middle), must be considered winter tires. However, the rules governing these markings can differ considerably. In case of M+S markings, it is the manufacturer who declares, under his own responsibility, that the tire guarantees better performance in winter conditions compared to a “regular” summer product. It is therefore a self-declaration by the manufacturer based on non-standardized criteria. The Alpine pictogram, instead, certifies that the tire has passed a specific approval test for extreme snow conditions. Bertolotti continues: "According to legal conditions, in order to meet the requirements, it is sufficient to fit tires with M+S markings alone”. However, for years, Assogomma has been sponsoring the use of winter tires that display both M+S and Alpine pictogram, as these are certified by third parties and guarantee greater safety. “All-season" tires, on the other hand, - sometimes called all-weather or multipurpose - are an entirely different matter. These are mere commercial definitions, not regulated by harmonized standards, and used by manufacturers to identify tires designed to offer adequate performance all year round and meet the legal requirements in winter. It goes without saying that these new types of tires must necessarily have the M+S marking; but even better are those that bear, in addition, the alpine pictogram, which is generally the case with the best car tire brands. From a technical point of view the main differences between a normal and a winter tire are two: self-locking 3D sipes in winter tires and full tread blocks in regular summer tires, and the compounds, which remains soft in winter even at low temperatures trapping the snow and improving the grip on the ground. In case of winter tires, dimensions and load index must always reflect what indicated on the registration certificate, while the speed code may be lower than the one reported but never below Q (160 km/h). If tires with a lower-than-required speed code are fitted, a warning tag must be applied to the windshield and visible to the driver, pointing out the use of tires with a downgraded speed code. With this type of tires it is possible to circulate a month prior to the mandatory period coming into force as well as a month after the end of the period; after this period, however, it is necessary to fit the tires provided for in the registration certificate, in order to avoid sanctions, vehicle impoundment and the subsequent additional roadworthiness inspection.
Applicable only to cars
"The obligation of winter tires", continues Bertolotti, "does not apply to heavy duty vehicles and motorcycles. For the former, in case of snow or forecasts of snowfalls, roadblocks are planned with the obligation to stop in pre-established areas, regardless of the use of winter tires or snow-chains, whether on board or mounted. In case of motorcycles, the use of winter tires is not even mandatory: in case of snow or forecasts of snowfalls they must not circulate, regardless of them having M+S tires". Furthermore, we should point out that the ministerial directive concerning winter equipment does not apply in residential areas, where similar measures, though, can be taken. Both the Ministry of Transport and tire manufacturers recommend fitting tires of the same type (summer or winter) on all axles. It has, in fact, been repeatedly demonstrated that fitting winter tires only on the drive axle (generally at the front on vehicles up to 3.5 t, and at the rear on heavier ones) can cause a loss of grip on the other axles, even at low speeds (10/15 km/h) with obvious problems for travelling safety as well as the safety of other road users. Mind you, fitting winter tires on just one axle is not illegal - there are no sanctions involved - but it is a practice that should be avoided.
All the necessary info in a single website
In 2000 Assogomma registered the “Pneumatici sotto controllo” brand (Tires under control), featured in all the campaigns shared with Federpneus (the national federation of tire dealers), aimed at informing drivers about the technical and regulatory aspects relating to tires. Every year campaigns are promoted, usually one in summer, before the holiday exodus, and one in winter just prior to the use of winter equipment becoming mandatory. For more information, visit the website www.pneumaticisottocontrollo.it.