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Fatal pile-up blamed on lax new winter-tyre law

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16:43 CET+01:00
Swedish traffic officials have slammed a new law allowing trucks to drive without winter tyres, and speculated that it could have caused Tuesday's chaotic 100-car pile-up that killed one and injured 46.

“The lack of winter tyres on trucks is one of the reasons this accident happened. The new law is not good enough,” Jon Stenbeck, spokesman for the Swedish Automobile Association (Motormännens Riksförbund), told The Local.

Since January 1st, heavy vehicles only need winter tyres on the wheels receiving power from the engine, and only when they are driven in winter conditions.

Effectively, a truck driver can forego replacing the tyres during winter if the weather stays clear and the road conditions don't become hazardous.

A road covered in “snow, ice, sludge or frost” is the official definition of a hazardous surface, according to the Swedish Transport Agency (Transportstyrelsen).

It is up to local police to say when those conditions apply.

RELATED PHOTO GALLERY: Pictures from the scene of the crash

Stenbeck warns that the law is near impossible to enforce with the hundreds of shipments from Europe entering southern Sweden.

“People don't know when the weather will be bad and it's expensive to change the tyres," he said.

"Drivers don't follow the law and police in southern Sweden's Skåne county don't have the resources to check every single lorry that comes into the country.”

For increased safety, he argues that heavy vehicles should have the special traction tyres on every single wheel and for the duration of winter.

Local police, however, claim there's been no need to check the winter tyres of any trucks yet, as the roads have been safe and clear ever since the new law was passed.

“We've not had reason to enforce the law until Tuesday's accident,” Lars Förstell of the Skåne police told The Local.

“The law only applies when the roads are slippery. People can decide if they want to change their tyres in winter or not, but you can only drive around with normal tyres if the weather is good.”

Förstell refused to comment on whether a lack of winter tyres contributed to the accident.

“We're not going to debate theories, we're investigating details. We've only just started to gather information,” he said.

Police described Tuesday's mass crash as chaotic, with several drivers having to be cut out of their mangled cars. Initial reports said several people had died, but the death tally was downgraded to one fatality.

Photographs from the scene showed the dense fog that contributed to poor visibility, and lines of cars and trucks spilling haphazardously across the lanes of the low bridge near Helsingborg.

The extensive damage following the pile-up was not limited to just the vehicles involved. Response teams are currently checking the bridge itself for cracks, according to Sweden's Traffic Agency (Trafikverket).

“They're investigating the bridge itself right now, checking for safety and working on a prognosis for when it can be reopened. We have no estimates yet for when that may be,” Roger Falk at the agency told The Local.

“We've been clearing the bridge since the accident and have been working throughout the night.”

The accident occurred just before midday on the Tranarp Bridge just northeast of Helsingborg, and the roads in both directions have been shut down since.

The bridge is just 30 kilometres from the a ferry line Denmark and Sweden, and lies on the E4, a popular route for shipments from Europe to Sweden and Norway.

A spokesperson at Trafikverket explained that it was the responsibility of such truck drivers to ensure they were abiding by Swedish road rules when entering the country.

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“Heavy vehicles are supposed to have winter tyres, and drivers from other countries should understand this,” Monica Näslund told The Local.

"It's Swedish law and it's up to them to know this before entering the country."

Truck drivers further north in Sweden, where the temperatures are lower and the roads are more likely to be hazardous, have long preferred winter tyres, according to Stenbeck at Motormännen.

He believes other motorists driving in Sweden can learn from these drivers, as well as from Tuesday's accident.

“Cars with good winter tyres are simply easier to drive in these conditions. The lack of winter tyres and excessive speed are most likely the reasons behind the accident,” he told The Local.

“People need to take their time when driving. This is an educational thing - winter tyres are hugely important.”

Oliver Gee

Follow Oliver on Twitter here

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