To stud or not to stud?

November brings the familiar clickity clickity of studs on pavement in Oregon. It also sparks the annual debate about whether studded tires are even necessary in the Rogue Valley.

Studded tires became legal Nov. 1, but Oregon Department of Transportation officials warn that these tires cause about $11 million in damages to Oregon roadways and bridges every year.

"We just want people in the Rogue Valley to be prudent about studded tires. If you're only going over passes or in the higher elevations a couple times a year, then you wouldn't need studded tires on your vehicle from November through March," said Gary Leaming, spokesman for the southwestern district of ODOT.

"Studded tires are best in areas that receive frequent and prolonged snows," he said. "We seldom get snow in the Rogue Valley. Ninety-nine percent of the time, we're driving on wet or dry pavement, not snow-covered pavement."

Leaming pointed out research has shown that studded tires are more effective than all-weather tires on icy roads, but can be less effective in most other conditions.

Steve MacLennan, a traffic officer for the Ashland Police Department, said, "In a panic situation, if a driver with stud tires applies their brakes on dry pavement, the brakes have a tendency to lock up, causing drivers to just slide across the pavement."

Added to this is a tendency for people with studs to have a false sense of security.

"They feel confident that they are going to be able to stop on snow or ice covered roads because they have studs on their tires," MacLennan said. "But they don't stop because they are still driving too fast for the conditions. Driving slow and steady is the secret to winter driving conditions."

Ross Johnston of Ross Johnston's Tire Sales said he has regulars in the Ashland area who absolutely need studded tires.

"We have customers who drive over the Siskiyou Pass every day to get to work. And the people who live up on Dead Indian Memorial Road and Greensprings, they need studs to get up those roads."

Johnston has seen a steady decline in studded tire sales over the years. When his father started the business in 1954, there were only about 10 different tire sizes for both passenger vehicles and pickups.

"Today there are more than 300 different sizes, and very few of them are available with studs."

Another possible reason for the decline could be the tire's reputation for damaging the roads.

"The state's been wanting to eliminate stud tires for years because of the road damage," said Johnston. "But I wonder if they damage to the extent that they say they do. I would think that chains on the passes are doing just as much damage."

ODOT Spokesman Leaming said chain damage isn't even an issue.

"If you're putting chains on your tires, that means you're in a snow zone and there is snow on the roadways," Leaming said. "People don't drive on dry pavement with chains on like they do with stud tires. So studs do cause far more damage."

The Siskiyou Summit just south of Ashland is the highest point on I-5 and can frequently be a problem area because of regular snow storms, said John Vial, southwest district manager for ODOT.

This pass is Oregon's only mountain pass where all-weather or studded tires cannot be substituted for chains.

"When we say chains are required on the Siskiyou Pass, every vehicle has to chain up except four-wheel drive vehicles. But Oregon law requires that even four-wheel drive vehicles carry chains," said Vial.

"We're very aggressive with 24-hour, plow and de-icer crews being out there when the pass is getting snow," he said. "But we think of this as a partnership and we are doing our part. If the public isn't prepared for severe weather by carrying chains, driving safely and even being dressed properly, it doesn't matter how hard we try, the pass will have to be closed."

"We've seen people in shorts and tennis shoes," he added. "They have no gloves and no flashlight, but they're bent over in the snow trying to chain up."

Vial added that drivers need to leave the Hawaiian T-shirts at home, carry an extra blanket and wear warm clothing. He recommends fueling up before crossing the pass because it's not unusual for motorists to wait an hour or more for the road to clear.

"At a minimum, carry tire chains, a working flashlight and drinking water,"Vial said. "It's also a good idea to bring a cell phone and snacks."

Staff writer can be reached 482-3456 ext. 226 or

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