Many motorists imagine that driving conditions in Finland are at their worst in the heart of winter, but people who have worked in the automotive and tyre industry for long periods of time tend to disagree. They say the most hazardous conditions come each year during the transition from autumn to winter, when night temperatures drop below zero and warm back up during the day.
“Most of us have a self-preservation instinct that says that when snow is on the ground, the roads are slippery. But at this time of the year, the roads are still frozen when the day begins and people don’t take the proper precautions. This is why it's most dangerous right now,” says Jyrki Larvanto, CEO of the southeast Finland tyre supplier Kantola Rengas.
Larvanto says too many drivers wait until too late to change their tyres, often after the first nasty spell of sleet or snow.
“It’s better to get a head start on fitting your winter tyres and then also take them off relatively early in the spring. It is useless to use winter tyres late into the spring, because that’s the time they wear down the fastest,” he says.
The Finnish way
Winter tyres are compulsory in Finland from the first of December to the end of February, but may be used until April 20 if necessary. Winter tyres without studs - known as “traction tyres” in Finland, or all-season winter tyres elsewhere - may be used throughout the year, but this is not recommended.
All-season winter tyres rely on factors other than studding for traction on ice, like highly porous or hydrophilic rubber that adheres to the wet film on the slippery surface. The best studless winter tyres offer a grip close to that of studded tyres during most winter conditions, with the notable exception of polished “black” ice, where the performance of studded tyres cannot be matched.
Studded winter tyres may be used from the start of November to the end of March in Finland, but the time period may be extended dependent on the weather.
Before fitting tyres, it should be ensured that they are in good condition, compatible with the vehicle and that the tyre pressure is correct. The groove depth of the winter tyres must be at least 3.0 millimetres when measured in the principle grooves of the tyre pattern.
All-season vs. studs
Every winter, the Finns engage in a vigorous debate about the pluses and minuses of all-season winter tyres versus studded tyres. The general understanding is that studded tyres provide a better grip on icy roads. On snow, however, the all-season tyres are the studded tyres' equals.
“It’s an absurd situation when just a tiny percentage of motorists in Lapland use all-season winter tyres, while fifteen percent of motorists in the south do the same. The studless tyres are much better suited to the snowy conditions,” says Larvanto.
According to Finland’s Transport Safety Agency Trafi, somewhere between ten to twenty percent of Finland’s vehicle owners use all-season winter tyres, a much smaller number than in Sweden, for example, where half of the population prefers them.
Public authorities in Sweden and Norway promote the use of studless winter tyres due to the wear studded tyres create on the roads and the harmful street dust particles they generate.