Drivers were able to start using studded tires on Nov. 1. The special tires are legal through March 31.
This year, there’s a new $5 fee per new studded tire purchase. Of that, 90 percent goes to a state fund set aside for road improvements. (Tire sellers keep the rest.)
The fee’s message is far bigger than its expected impact.
“The fees generated by studded tire purchases will help offset the damage that studded tires cause to our state highways, but the need is great,” said Jeff Uhlmeyer, the state’s pavement engineer.
Studded tires are blamed for beating up state roads to the tune of $18 million per year.
The Washington State Department of Transportation holds little hope that this year’s added cost will discourage studded tire use, given the fee’s one-time nature.
Until this year, efforts to impose fees and taxes had failed, too. That included much larger annual permits, of $75 to $100, proposed during the same Legislative session as the $5 fee.
That may reflect a reluctance by drivers to give up the tires. In a 2014 state survey, only 53 percent of respondents supported a year-round ban on studded tires, even after being told of the damage they cause.
Federal transportation policy also favors a ban. More than a dozen states now ban tires with metal studs.
“With the new technology in tires, drivers have other options that provide better traction in most conditions but don’t cause the damage that studded tires do,” Uhlmeyer said.
Traction tires have vastly improved since Washington started allowing studded tires in 1969. These days, the benefits of studs is increasingly narrow, though there are still advantages on ice and snow near the freezing mark, according to a state review of research.
There’s no advantage in freezing weather. Ice is ice.