B.C. Winter Driving Rules Are Now in Effect

As of Oct. 1, 2018, a number of winter driving rules are in effect in British Columbia for both passenger and commercial vehicles. Winter tires or chains are required on most routes in B.C. from Oct. 1 to March 31, and those who fail to comply may be issued significant fines.

This News Brief provides an overview of the requirements and a number of additional safety considerations to keep in mind.

Tire Requirements for Passenger Vehicles

In B.C., winter tires on passenger, four-wheel or all-wheel vehicles must have tread depths of at least 3.5 millimetres. Specifically, winter tires must be labelled with either of the following:

  1. The letters “M” and “S”, which signify the minimum legal requirements for all-season tires
  2. The three-peaked mountain and snowflake symbol

It should be noted that drivers must have two matching winter tires on their primary drive axle. For added safety, drivers should use four winter tires of equal tread type and depth.

Experts recommend that drivers install mountain snowflake tires for cold weather driving. Summer tires are not recommended for driving between Oct. 1 and March 31. Chains on summer tires are not an acceptable substitute for legal winter tires on B.C. highways.

If you are renting a vehicle and travelling outside the Greater Vancouver or Victoria areas, it’s a good idea to request a vehicle with winter tires.

Chains, Traction Devices and Safety Considerations for Passenger Vehicles

In addition to requiring a specific tread depth on winter tires, the B.C. government encourages drivers to keep the following considerations in mind:

  • Air pressure—The government recommends that drivers check the air pressure in their tires at least once a month. This is because maintaining proper air pressure extends the tread life of tires and improves overall safety.
  • Traction devices—Passenger vehicles may use alternative traction devices with their winter tires. However, you should only use these devices if they have been tested for performance in winter conditions. Traction devices to consider include:
    • Chains—When installed properly, chains can provide additional traction in snow and ice and minimize drifting. For the best results, chains should be placed on a vehicle’s primary drive axle.
    • Studded tires—While useful in improving traction, studded tires may only be used on B.C. highways from Oct. 1 to April 30. Additionally, studs should not protrude more than 2 millimeters from the tread or traction surface of the tire. If you are using studded tires, you should have them on all four wheels for even traction.
    • Textile tire cover—Similar to chains, a textile sheath placed over a winter tire can improve traction. However, these devices work best on snow and ice and degrade quickly when used on asphalt.

Tire Requirements for Commercial Vehicles

Commercial drivers who travel outside the Greater Vancouver and Victoria areas in the winter are required to:

  1. Use the appropriate tires. Commercial trucks weighing between 5,000 to 27,000 kilograms primarily use chains for additional traction, but may use tires with the three-peaked mountain and snowflake symbol or the “M” and “S” symbols if available for their vehicle class.
  2. Carry chains or be equipped with other traction devices, particularly if the vehicle weighs 27,000 kilograms or more.
  3. Obey winter tire and chain signs throughout the province from Oct. 1 to March 31. For select highways, including mountain passes and rural routes in high snowfall areas, the date is extended until April 30 to account for early spring snowfall.

Commercial drivers should keep chains on hand at all times and understand how to install them.

Chains, Traction Devices and Safety Considerations for Commercial Vehicles

Commercial drivers are encouraged to use alternative traction devices so long as they have been tested for performance in winter conditions. The following are some safety considerations to keep in mind for such devices:

  • Chains—Experts recommend that commercial vehicles use steel chains to improve traction and prevent lateral slippage. Cable-style chains are permitted if used in conjunction with steel-link chains. However, these chains do not provide adequate traction on roads with banked curves and can actually cause a vehicle to slide. Drivers may also install automatic tire chains, which are activated and retracted from the safety of the driver’s seat.
  • Studded tires—While useful in improving traction, studded tires may only be used on B.C. highways from Oct. 1 to April 30. Additionally, studs should not protrude more than 2 millimetres from the tread or traction surface of the tire. If you are using studded tires, you should have them on all four wheels for even traction.
  • Wheel sander systems—These systems can help add grit to tires, increasing overall traction.
  • Textile tire cover—Similar to chains, a textile sheath placed over a winter tire can improve traction. However, these devices work best on snow and ice and degrade quickly when used on asphalt.

Designated Winter Tire and Chain-up Routes and More Information

In B.C., routes that require winter tires and chains are designated by signage. For maps of these routes, as well as more general information on winter driving rules, click here.