Studded Tires Aren't Actually a Good Buy This Winter

In some parts of the world, everyone is a Game of Thrones Stark. "Winter is coming" isn't just a family motto, but a way of life. We still have to get around when it's snowing and icy outside, but one widespread method may actually do more harm than good.

Researchers from Sweden's Chalmers University of Technology have just released a study examining the overall impact of studded tires, which grip snowy roads like track cleats to keep cars from skidding. About 60 percent of Swedish drivers use studded tires in the winter, making their environmental effect a national concern. When the studs run on exposed concrete or asphalt (i.e., not on ice or snow), they ultimately ruin roads and create dangerous emissions from the particulate matter they raise.

To make matters worse, one of the materials used in creating the studs is a conflict mineral. Cobalt mining is a key player in the decades-long conflict rending the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Chalmers team found that in the end, studded tires actually cost more lives than they save from accidents. According to a press release, "Swedish use of studded tires saves between 60 and 770 life-years, compared with 570 to 2200 life-years which are lost."

Most of the solutions proposed by the Chalmers researchers are municipal or corporate, rather than individual. "How you drive is important, and snow-ploughing and sweeping needs to be done properly," said co-author Anna Furberg. "Many cars today also have electronic anti-skid systems fitted, which make them safer to drive at higher speeds." Ultimately, they propose more research into alternatives to studded tires. Until then, consider other options — or just see if climate change makes the choice for you.