Nova Scotia

A tough commute renews debate around winter tires for transport trucks

The great winter tire debate has come to the transport truck industry. A blast of winter weather last week drove the big rigs off the road, prevented them from climbing hills and added to traffic delays that impacted thousands of motorists in and around Halifax.

'They couldn't get enough traction at that speed to get up over the hill"

It is not mandatory for transport trucks to have winter tires in Nova Scotia. (Shutterstock)

The great winter tire debate has come to the transport truck industry.

A recent blast of winter weather drove the big rigs off the road, prevented them from climbing hills and added to traffic delays that impacted thousands of motorists in and around Halifax.

One of the people trapped in all that traffic on Nov. 28 was Katherine Ogden, who was on the way home to Truro from Halifax. Her commute, which normally takes a little over an hour, ended up taking four. 

Part of that delay was caused by two tractor-trailers stuck on the exit ramp to Enfield on Highway 102.

That led to a massive lineup of vehicles trying to get off the highway. Eventually Ogden had to inch out into another lane to keep moving. 

Traffic heading into Halifax inched along for hours on Nov. 28. (Kayla Hounsell/CBC)

"There were times that we saw vehicles that were spinning their wheels trying to climb hills," said Ogden.

"They just couldn't go anywhere on the ice. I assume that's what happened to the tractor-trailers, that they couldn't get enough traction at that speed to get up over the hill."

Every vehicle on the road should be required to have winter tires, including transport trucks, said Ogden. 

"Our weather is too unpredictable and our precipitation is often so mixed between snow and rain and freezing rain that I think we need to have our vehicles better equipped to deal with that."     

Katherine Ogden spent four hours trying to get from Halifax to Truro. (Submitted by Katherine Ogden)

Ogden's father is a transport truck driver and told her that not every trucking company puts winter tires on their vehicles. 

"I've had advice from him on certain trucks to avoid driving around if I can help it because they are known for not having winter tires," she said. 

It is not mandatory for transport trucks to have winter tires, according to Jean-Marc Picard, executive director of the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association. 

He said most companies only put winter tires on their tractors and not on their trailers. 

"They're built for driving a lot of miles, a lot of kilometres," said Picard. "They're well manufactured. They're obviously expensive and good tires. The weather has to be pretty nasty for a truck to be sliding and not be able to make a hill."

The poor weather snarled traffic on Highway 111 in Dartmouth, N.S. (Anjuli Patil/CBC)

Picard said it's difficult to know how many transport trucks could be travelling without winter tires. He believes the tires should be mandatory on all tractors. 

Nova Scotia's Transportation Department says that winter tires are not required by law on any type of vehicle in the province.

Requiring transport trucks to have them is not something the province is considering at this time. But the Transportation Department says that snow tires are strongly recommended.

Jean-Marc Picard is executive director of the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association.

Even with winter tires a vehicle can still run into trouble in bad weather, said Picard, and some trucking companies are now pulling their trucks off the road during storms.

In many cases, truckers will try to find a safe spot, like a truck stop or rest station, to pull off the road to wait out bad weather, Picard said.

There were many transport trucks unable to do that last week.

On her commute, Ogden saw up to 10 transport trucks that were stuck, along with a pickup truck, a bus and several cars.

Picard said that truckers don't want to get stuck and tie up traffic either. 

A motorcyclist struggles to get through traffic in the slushy snow on Nov. 28. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

"They've got bigger vehicles, more at risk, it's more complicated to drive," said Picard. "It's not as simple as people think. So just be patient. They're doing their best."

If drivers come across a transport truck struggling to make it up a hill, Picard said they should wait until the truck is out of trouble before attempting to pass.

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