Skip to main content

How do winter tires affect my liability in an accident?

Winter tires or tire chains are required from October 1 – March 31 to drive on most highways by law in British Columbia. Canadian winters bring icy roads, limited visibility, and an increase in the risk of sliding into a traffic accident, and winter tires can provide necessary traction to avoid an accident. But, a October 2017 ICBC survey indicates only half of BC drivers have prepared for snowy conditions by putting winter tires on their cars.

Most of the highways where winter tires or chains are mandatory are outside the Lower Mainland, however, The City of Vancouver has considered implementing fines for drivers who don’t use winter tires as well. But not putting on winter tires can cost you: either by getting ticketed for driving on a designated highway without winter tires or getting into an accident where you are found liable. 


Police can pull you over if they suspect you do not have winter tires

Under B.C. law, winter tires must have at least 3.5 mm of tread depth and meet or exceed the traction index described by BC’s Motor Vehicle Act Regulations. In Canada, manufacturers must also label winter tires or all season tires with a 3-peaked mountain and snowflake symbol and the letters “M” and “S” (mud and snow).

If an officer of the law suspects you are driving on a designated highway without proper winters tires or chains, they can pull you over. The fine for driving on a designated highway without winter tires is $121.


Not having winter tires and having an accident can cost you

If you get into an accident, not having winter tires is not always going to make you 100% liable. Going downhill or speeding might play a greater role in an accident. But what not having winter tires can mean is ICBC may not cover your full claim. If you aren’t at fault for the accident, but don’t have snow tires, in some cases we found, ICBC could say you are 25% at fault and deduct that amount from your claim. 

However, if you are found liable for an accident because of your tires, there can be significant repercussions. In one example we found, it cost the driver as much as $235,000.

In Hutton v. Breitkreutz, the defendant was found liable for an accident that happened on Dec. 27, 2008 outside of Kelowna because she had not taken reasonable care of the tires on her vehicle. Breitkreutz’s vehicle slid across the centre line while she moved through a bend in the highway, sliding into a head-on collision with Hutton’s.

While travelling too fast and no other drivers having trouble on that stretch of road were factors, the judge heavily cited the state of the tires on Breitkreutz’s vehicle:

“The two front tires were worn and the rear passenger tire can only be described as bald. None of the vehicle’s tires were snow tires. All of the witnesses who were professional drivers … and mechanics who testified, agreed that the rear passenger tire in particular was in very bad shape.”

The tread on the tires was found to be less than 1.5 millimetres and worn below the wear bars. The judge found Breitkreutz had not taken reasonable care to ensure her vehicle was road safe, especially since she had recently purchased the vehicle and had it inspected at a service centre, but not asked about the quality of the tires.

Hutton was awarded approximately $235,000 in damages which included wage loss, loss of earning capacity, health costs, and other damages.


Using all season tires or a combination is a gamble

All season versus snow tires can be part of determining whether or not a driver is liable for an accident. However, context can play a more significant role in determining whether or not tires factor into liability. Excessive speed or erratic driving, the mechanical state of the vehicle, the temperature, weight of materials in the vehicle, whether or not the vehicle is in four-wheel drive can all be factors that determine whether or not a driver has been negligent.

Drivers using all season tires have been found negligent for causing an accident by “omitting to improve the traction afforded by mud and snow” with winter tires. In this case, the driver had also additional weight over the rear-drive wheels of her pick-up truck, and had not engaged four-while drive while travelling uphill. 

In other cases, the judge found the defendant was not liable even though the driver had all-season tires on their vehicle. In one case, the driver had equipped their truck with new all-season tires two months before an accident occurred in Osoyoos because the driver had taken precautions, the court determined he met the required standard of care. 


What about having winter tires on only some of the wheels?

At BC Driving Lawyers, we have heard stories of people losing collision coverage because of having different treads on the tires of their vehicle — for example, having three winter tires and one all-season tire. But it is impossible to get 100 per cent liability because of tires alone — driving safely is still a bigger factor. In one case we found, the defendant’s vehicle was equipped with all-season tires on the front and winter tires on the back wheels. The driver had no reason to expect black ice on the road, was driving the speed limit, and the road was dry. The judge concluded that studded winter tires, as opposed to all-season tires, “probably would not have made much difference as they are only of value at low temperatures such as -10 degrees or -15 degrees Celsius.” 

At the end of the day, safe driving practices are going to be more significant in determining your liability in an accident — checking the quality of your tires is a part of that process. Drivers who have equipped winter tires on only some of the wheels of their vehicle have been found liable and not liable based on the situations they were driving in. If a driver has taken reasonable care to ensure their vehicle is equipped with tires suitable for their driving conditions, they are generally found to be not responsible for damages on the basis of the quality of the tires.

Determining liability in an accident is a complex and involved procedure. At BC Driving Lawyers, our team has defended drivers in hundreds of cases. If you have an accident and need representation call us today at 604-608-1200.