In many ways, drivers can judge a safe winter if, come spring, it’s one where they haven’t had to bother their van insurance provider or jeopardise next year’s no claims bonus having safely traversed everything that December through February has thrown at them.
Winter poses more threats for van drivers or professionals who rely on commercial vehicles to either transport their tools or their crew to site. Unlike warehouse, office and production staff, who have the option of public transport, a company’s fleet of drivers generally have no other choice than to drive, whatever the weather.
In a recent report, combined studies by the RAC and AA have shown that driving with inappropriate tyres is the main cause for roadside assistance callouts during cold spells. The recent prolonged periods of snow, ice and freezing temperatures, especially in the north and Scotland, show no signs abating this year with those regions again being hit by extreme weather and here we are, only just into the second week of December.
So, why aren’t snow tyres and/or chains a legal necessity here in the UK when they are in some regions of the continent? The AA have prepared a special report into just that question; here is an overview of the main points, especially regarding van insurance, which could be negated if the guidelines for driving safely in winter are not adhered to.
snow tyre specifics
Winter tyres, usually identified with an embellished snowflake, are constructed from a compound that retains flexibility below 7°C. The combination of tread pattern and high silica content enhance traction, offering better braking and all round grip in icy, snowy and cold, wet terrain.
The main driving force behind the decision not to make them compulsory in the UK is simple economics. As well as having to create mass-production facilities to produce enough sets for the whole UK fleet of commercial vehicles, only a few remote regions are subjected to prolonged periods of weather that would justify the time and expense that fitting snow tyres encumbers. Similarly, you rarely see snow chains – they are only effective on compact snow and ice and for the hassle it takes to fit them, especially as commercial vehicles travel predominantly on well-gritted roads, there is no viable UK market.
With regards to van insurance and the fitting of winter tyres, the AA recommend that you do talk to you van insurance provider before fitting them. As long as the specification of your winter tyre conforms to the model’s spec, there should be no issue, although the AA “…did hear reports of some insurers increasing premiums or remarkably even refusing cover if winter tyres are fitted.”
The Association of British Insurers look at the fitting of winter tyres in this context: if the driver is conscientious enough to go to the expense and extent of fitting winter tyres, by implication, their diligence should reduce risk of incidents in the manner in which they drive in inclement conditions.
Their one comment is that, to be extra safe, have your winter tyres fitted by a qualified mechanic; even then, all van insurers are not created equally, and the ABI still advise to check with your van insurance broker beforehand.