Snow Socks: A Viable Alternative to Chains?

Posted on Mon, 2015-11-16 15:22
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Winter weather is upon us and with the recent approval of “textile tire covers” for use on BC’s snowy roads, you may be looking at the possibility of outfitting your fleet with “snow socks.”

But what are textile tire covers? Are they approved in other jurisdictions? Do they work?

A flurry of reader hits on a recent Bulletin article about the regulatory change prompted us to dig deeper in search of information on this new technology.

Textile tire covers or snow socks are fabric covers that slip over tires to provide additional traction in icy and snowy conditions. They are made from textiles with the fibres arranged at a right angle to the direction of travel, and they wick away water between the tire and the road, all of which creates improved grip. There are several brands on the market.

Snow socks are touted as being easier to install and remove than chains, as well as being lighter in weight and cheaper. European drivers have used them on passenger vehicles for more than a decade and the German technical inspection association TÜV has certified at least one brand for use on trucks and buses greater than 7,700 lbs.

In 2008, after testing in Colorado, snow socks were approved as a traction device by the Colorado Department of Transportation. Other North American jurisdictions vary in their acceptance of snow socks. Here is a sample of the regulations:

  • BC: Where chains are required, commercial vehicles in BC may use textile tire covers as an alternative to chains during winter months.
  • Alberta: Alberta does not require a commercial vehicle to carry tire chains. However, Alberta Transportation has informed BCTA that in poor driving conditions a peace officer may control roadway access by only allowing vehicles equipped with winter tires or chains to proceed. In these situations, it is at the discretion of the individual peace officer to allow the snow sock in lieu of winter tires or tire chains.
  • Canadian National Parks (e.g., Mount Revelstoke, Glacier, Yoho, Banff, Jasper, Kootenay): The mountainous national parks in Canada have their own set of regulations. Snow tires or chains are mandatory in winter and there is no mention of alternate traction devices such as snow socks.
  • Washington State: According to the Washington State Patrol, when “Chains Required” signs are posted, the following snow socks are approved for use for vehicles or vehicle combinations over 10,000 lb:
    • With five or fewer axles: “AutoSock” brand snow socks (the Washington regulations specify this brand)
    • With six or more axles: No alternative traction device has been certified by a manufacturer as meeting the requirements for approval.
  • Oregon: Oregon defines “chains” to include “Link chains, cable chains or another device that attaches to the wheel, vehicle or outside of the tire that is specifically designed to augment the traction of a vehicle under ice or snow conditions.”
  • California: California specifically defines “tire traction device” to include snow socks.
  • Nevada: Nevada regulations specifically mention “alternative traction devices” consisting of durable traction-enhancing fabric or plastic encompassing the circumference of a tire tread and secured to both sides of the wheel. However, the regulations are unclear as to whether they are acceptable on commercial vehicles and if so, under what circumstances.
  • Other US states: In many states, the regulations do not mention traction devices such as snow socks. Some states (e.g., Montana and Wyoming) permit traction devices, but do not specifically define those to include snow socks.

Generally, available user reviews of the socks are based on passenger vehicles and not on commercial vehicles or heavy trucks. Some users find the socks easier to install than chains and durable enough for their purpose. Other reviewers complain that the snow socks are not as easy to install as advertised and describe them as a “single-use” item. One brand involved with the Colorado test mentioned above states that to gain approval in Colorado, they drove a heavy truck for 160 km on dry asphalt, and CDOT still deemed the product to be in functioning condition after this test. (For a local, anecdotal comment on using snow socks on the Coquihalla, see this Bulletin article.)

Operators should always keep in mind that, in many jurisdictions, appropriate or safe equipment is left to the discretion of the on-the-spot authority, who is considered the best judge of the current conditions.

Additional resources

  • For more information on snow socks, including a video of testing done with snow socks on trucks in Colorado, click here.
  • For a map of the US showing where snow socks are approved, click here (scroll down).
  • For a consumer review of snow socks used on passenger vehicles, click here.

Please note that links to sites are provided for your information only; BCTA does not recommend or endorse products.

For background information, please see the October 19, 2015, Bulletin article “Snow Socks Approved for BC Use.”