As the cold grips Finland, drivers are hurriedly switching to winter tires in anticipation of the compulsory changeover starting on November 1st. With winter conditions already setting in across much of the country, especially in the mornings when roads can be particularly slippery, the change is not just a legal requirement but a necessity for safe driving.
The law mandates that from November 1st through the end of March, all vehicles must be equipped with suitable winter tires,
a responsibility that falls squarely on the drivers, emphasized Jarmo Nuora, the Chairman of the Finnish Tire Association. He reminded that while the law is a guide, the real urgency for tire change is dictated by current weather conditions.
"The onset of winter can be sudden, catching drivers off guard on a slippery morning. Without winter tires, it's safest to leave the car at home," Nuora advised.
In Central and Northern Finland, the season's first snowfalls and dropping temperatures in early October kickstarted the tire-switching frenzy. Further south, in Helsinki, tire shops are overwhelmed with demand. Hannu Temonen, owner of Roihupello Tires, noted that his appointment book started filling up by mid-October, reaching full capacity as soon as the snow began to fall.
"The phones have been ringing off the hook with people wanting to switch to winter tires immediately, but now we're booked solid for at least a week," Temonen said.
The rush is partly fueled by the autumn school holidays, with many families heading north and switching to winter tires for the journey. Yet, with the official start of the winter tire season on the coming Wednesday, several drivers are finding themselves behind schedule.
Before changing to winter tires, it's crucial to check their condition. Whether using studded or non-studded tires, the key factor is the tire's quality. "Tires are the safety feature that either keeps the car on the road or doesn't," Nuora noted. He emphasized the importance of tread depth, with the law requiring a minimum of 3 mm but generally, a safer measure being around 5 mm for better performance on wet or slushy roads. For studded tires, the number of studs should also be checked, ensuring not to deviate more than 25% between the best and worst tire in a set.
The Finnish Road Traffic Act mandates the use of winter tires during adverse conditions from November 1st to March 31st. This effectively means that throughout the winter period, regardless of who owns the vehicle, the driver is responsible for ensuring the proper tires are fitted. Studded tires can be used outside this period if conditions warrant. The standard for safe tread depth in winter tires is approximately 4-5 mm for optimal functionality.