It's one of those "66" days in Bend - 6 degrees on the thermometer and 6 inches of snow on the ground - so it seems like an appropriate time to talk about Central Oregonians' stud fetish.
We're not referring to pieces of metal stuck into one's tongue, lip or other anatomical parts. We're talking about studded tires.
Central Oregonians love their studs. Can't live without 'em. Can't wait to put 'em on in the fall. Hate to take 'em off in the spring.
People in most other parts of the country don't have this strange stud fetish. The Eye had never seen or even heard of studded tires before moving to Oregon. And The Eye lived in some pretty snowy places on the East Coast for 30 years.
In Minnesota and Michigan, whose climate makes Central Oregon look like Palm Springs, studs have been banned since the 1970s. As far as we know, Minnesotans and Michiganders are not slaughtering each other on the highways in winter at any greater rate than Oregonians are.
Studs do severe damage to asphalt, which is why studded tires aren't allowed during the warm months and why there are periodic efforts to ban them outright or to impose a tax to help pay for pavement repair. Those proposals never get anywhere, because Oregonians - especially those living east of the Cascades - are convinced they will face instant, bloody death if they don't have their studs on every time there's a trace of snow or ice on the pavement.
But the safety advantages of studs are debatable, at best. They don't give any better traction on snow than a good set of studless winter tires provides. They're somewhat better at stopping a vehicle on glare ice. But on bare or wet pavement - which, let's face it, is what we have the great majority of the time - they actually have worse traction than studless tires. That's because with studs, less rubber is in contact with the road.
According to the Washington Department of Transportation: "Under wet driving conditions the stopping ability of vehicles equipped with studded tires is actually reduced. Tire studs reduce the full contact between a tire's rubber compound and the pavement. Research on studded tires consistently shows that vehicles equipped with studded tires require a longer stopping distance on wet or dry pavement than do vehicles equipped with standard tires."
The best safety measure for driving in snow and ice is knowing how to drive in snow and ice - go slow, stay a safe distance behind other vehicles, make no sharp turns or sudden moves. (You can find good advice for safe winter driving here.)
This is pretty basic stuff. But watching the way people drive around Bend, we get the impression that most local drivers never bother to learn it. Maybe they think their studs make them invulnerable.
According to ODOT, the state spends about $11 million a year to repair studded tire damage. That's $11 million that would be better spent elsewhere - especially considering that the safety value of studs is largely an illusion.
Oregon should ban studded tires - the sooner the better.