At the beginning of the 20th Century, family automobiles began filling the roadways. Driving in those early days was difficult, especially in bad weather. Some streets and roads were paved, but most were still vestiges from horse-drawn vehicle days, muddy in warm weather and frozen in icy winters.
The wheels on the first cars were similar to those on wagons, narrow and lacking any treads. When winter froze the roads, tire chains were a necessity for drivers to make their way along the mostly poorly paved roads. As automobile designs advanced through the 1920s, cars became heavier, while tires were made wider and had treads. These developments resulted in safer driving, especially in severe winter conditions.
There are areas where winters are long and severe, and even the best of roads are hazardous when covered with ice and snow. Snow tires replaced much of the need for snow chains when they were introduced in the 1930s.
Their deeper treads grip the winter roads as well as the cumbersome chains. Although chains give better traction than snow tires, taking them on and off is a time-consuming task. The building and expansion of multi-lane super highways allow drivers to travel faster and more safely without the need for chains.
Today, even in the worst winter weather, snow chains are not always necessary for most well-paved highways and streets. Snow plows are efficient in clearing off accumulated snow and ice quickly, and on some major highways the use of tire chains is not permitted. They slow down traffic and can damage cleared-off road surfaces.
However, there are still areas where snow chains are allowed, and under some heavy winter conditions, actually required. With the growing popularity of ski resorts, it’s difficult to drive cars, trucks and buses to their high mountain locations when the roads are covered with ice and snow.
Under those conditions, signs and media messages may warn or turn away vehicles without chains. The drivers should be informed that chains are necessary to give enough grip while proceeding steeply uphill on the way to ski destinations. For drivers who live or drive in mountainous areas during winter, it’s always useful to keep a set of chains in the trunk for when they’ll need them.
Despite all the continuing improvements in the capabilities of snow tires and highways, there are times and places where snow chains are necessary. If you live in an area where winters are severe and experience frequent heavy snowfalls and icy roads, you should own chains and know how to use them for your safety and consideration for everyone else on the road.