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Ready for the seasonal tire change?

#Inverno in sicurezza


On November 15 the mandatory use of winter tires and winter chains, on most Italian roads, will be back into force. Choosing the right equipment though need not depend solely on rules and regulations, but on a widespread virtuous behaviour that must be promoted and supported, explains Fabio Bertolotti, director of Assogomma.

Nicoletta Ferrini

Autumn marks the end of those long warm summer days with their outdoor strolls, seaside or mountainside holidays, and brings back the far too often delayed issue of seasonal tire changes. The mandatory use of winter equipment on most Italian roads, will kick-off on November 15 – and will end, unless extended, on April 15. 

Besides the legal aspects, the reasons for fitting our vehicles with “shoes” suitable for travelling on icy, frosted or snow-clad roads, are the same that move us to prefer boots to sandals when walking on a mountain trail, that is comfort and safety. 

“From a strictly technical point of view, as temperatures plummet below 7° Celsius, braking distances on a car travelling at around 90 km/h will reduce by as much as 20% on wet roads with winter tires. And what’s more, in case of snow and near-freezing temperatures, the same vehicle travelling at 40 km/h will need 50% less braking space compared to a similar vehicle equipped with summer tires,” says Fabio Bertolotti, Director of Assogomma.

Raising a greater awareness on the all-important contribution made by tires in terms of road safety, is the main objective of the “Pneumatici Sotto Controllo” program (Tires Under Control), a brand that has witnessed, as far back as the year 2000, Assogomma’s committment, along with Federpneus (National Association of Tyre Specialists), to recurring initiatives such as “Vacanze Sicure” (Safe Winters) and “Inverno in Sicurezza” (Safe Winters). For the last thirteen years, “Inverno in Sicurezza” played a decisive role in raising awareness on the quality of winter tires and the advantages in using them, supplying adequate information also on the legal framework and its application in the different parts of Italy. Therefore, in 2017, as was the case in previous years, this initiative will distribute, directly and through the support of the Ministry of Transport, the Traffic Police, Aci, Driving Schools, Insurance companies as well as Companies managing sections of the National Motorway system and others, a series of newsletters and brochures to highlight both legal and technical requirements. Through their websites, both “Pneumatici Sotto Controllo”, the Ministry of Home Affairs and the State Police, will update motorists on the decrees in force in each Italian province.  

 “If it is an undeniable fact that recent winters have been rather mild with very little snow, with the exclusion of a few mountain passes, it is likewise undeniable that extraordinarily heavy downpours have plagued the country, even at rather unusual times and seasons or in areas little accustomed to cope with rainfalls of such entity – explains Bertolotti. Thus, an increasing number of Provinces are looking at adopting these regulations with seasonal or even day-to-day decrees.”

Therefore, motorists will have to come to terms with the fact that, travelling throughout the country during the colder season, will inevitably take them over roads where the mandatory use of winter equipment is in force.  


Road safety: a cultural issue

"This choice though, should not be prompted only by the fear of being sanctioned – as the director of Assogomma emphasises  – but rather by the awareness of what the real risks for our lives are, both for those who are travelling with us or using our same roads.” The problem of road safety, as Fabio Bertolotti explains, is above all cultural, and it is precisely in this direction that associations such as Assogomma have been directing their efforts for years. "When the ‘Pneumatici Sotto Controllo’ program got underway, seventeen years ago, a Saatchi & Saatchi survey provided us with an incredible national scenario by today’s standards: 7 out of 10 motorists did not fasten their seatbelts and 8 out of 10 claimed to regularly exceed the speed limits. To the question "which vehicle components can greatly contribute to road safety? No one, and I underline ‘NO ONE’ mentioned tires  – recalls Bertolotti. In such a discouraging scenario, the challenges for both ‘Pneumatici Sotto Controllo’ as well as ‘Inverno in Sicurezza’ was ambitious indeed: getting 10 million motorists, who did not even fasten their seatbelts, to understand how important tires are to road safety, including the need for proper seasonal equipment. We are sure – adds Bertolotti - that today, thanks to the work done along with many of our partners, tire dealers in particular, the number of drivers who know and appreciate the valuable contribution made by tires to road safety is certainly no longer ZERO.”


Settling a misunderstanding

Despite the many steps forward, we are still far from a widespread awareness.

"Confusion still reigns, especially as far as the words used - says the director of Assogomma: Winter tires, Snow tires, etc. This confusion is partly due to the diverse and complex rules governing the sector.”

In fact, the European Directive 92/23, in force from 1992 to October 2017 (to be repealed in November 2017), speaks of "snow tires", referring to those marked M+S (with no reference to the 3PMSF pictogram).

This Directive will be replaced by Regulation 117 which, in the original English version of the UNECE texts (the official reference version with legal effect under international public law), identifies two distinct categories, both defined as "snow tyre", the first featuring M+S markings for tires suitable for use on snow-clad roads, and the second M+S with a 3PMSF pictogram confirms the tire to be suitable for use in "severe" winter conditions.

Various translations of this Regulation have produced different definitions. For example in Germany no reference is made to “winter” or “snow”, these tires are identified only by their markings: either as M+S or M+S with 3PMSF.

In France it is translated as “pneuneige”, which is a rather faithful translation, while in Italy “Snow tyre” has been translated as “Winter tire”, following the input coming from our Traffic Law.

However, besides the different words used, both technical content and performance characteristics are identical for all of them. The M+S marking is a self-declaration by the tire manufacturer, based on its own technical evaluation, that identifies a tire as able to guarantee better performance on snow clad roads compared to a “normal” summer tire. The M+S marking accompanied by the Alpine 3PMSF pictogram points to a tire that has passed a specific third party approval test, which confirms that the tire has undergone and passed a  series of behaviour tests under severe winter conditions.

In conclusion, both M+S and M+S with 3PMSF markings are suitable for driving in winter conditions and offer certified and homogeneous performance.

"The issue, therefore, would  appear to have been finally settled, but unfortunately this is not the case! In fact, a number of important online tire sales websites are marketing tires boasting M+S markings as ‘summer tires’. Actually, these products do indeed have tread patterns and compounds commonly found  in summer tire.  From a legal point of view there are no doubts: the presence of M+S markings makes them suitable for circulation in winter conditions even in the presence of snow in full compliance with the Legal obligations set by the Legislators, so, no risk of sanctions there.

But a question naturally arises: are these tires really suitable for driving in winter conditions? It is rather difficult to come up with a univocal answer: their suitability can only be confirmed by specific tests aimed at verifying that such markings do not represent an anomaly as it would seem.

There are substantial differences between a summer and a winter products, as the director of Assogomma explains: and we are not just talking about different treads - usually with fuller tread blocks in the case of summer tires and the presence of sipes on winter treads – but, more importantly, the compound. In fact, in the case of winter treads, the compound remains soft even at low temperatures  guaranteeing greater snow retention in the grooves ensuring good road handling and superior grip in snowy conditions. This difference is not immediately visible - says the director of Assogomma – yet our tests have shown that the compound can affect performance by almost 70% in winter.”

Choosing the right tire to deal with the increasingly unpredictable cold season is therefore a must, but perhaps not as simple as one could imagine. For this reason, Assogomma’s suggestion is always the same: "Go to a specialist retailers and replace your tires at the right time. If we want to play it safe - and as tire dealers we want to give our customer the best advice - it is also preferable to choose premium brand tires which boast both M+S and 3PMSF markings.” 

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