The advantages and disadvantages of road salt

December 22, 2014

In winter, most regions in Canada use road salt to provide better tire traction on ice and snow and prevent cars from skidding on slippery roads. So what are the advantages and disadvantages of road salt? Here is a short summary.

The advantages

According to the Transportation Association of Canada, the advantages and disadvantages of road salt are numerous. The main benefit of salt is that it creates safer roads. How does it work? The vehicles passing over the roads compact the snow underneath. This then sticks to the pavement and becomes difficult to remove with snow plows.

However, road salt creates a layer of “brine” between the snow (or ice) and the road, and that prevents the snow from sticking to the road surface. Salt therefore makes it easier to remove snow and ensure the safe flow of traffic. This, in turn, reduces the number of accidents and insurance claims, improves fuel economy (because of better tire traction) and reduces absenteeism at work.

The disadvantages

The use of road salt results in multiple secondary costs, beyond its purchase and distribution. Road salt contributes to the corrosion of automobiles and can also damage structures, such as bridge decks. Salt may also have considerable environmental impact if used excessively.

  • Salt dissolves in water, an effect that increases the salt concentration of groundwater. Salt can also affect the fauna and flora in river systems.
  • Sodium, which comprises road salt, can raise the pH level of soil and make it less permeable. That makes it less fertile.
  • Salt can have a negative impact on vegetation bordering roads. In fact, trees, shrubs, plants and grasses can deteriorate if the salt content of the water and soil is too high.
  • Lastly, the application of road salt attracts animals to the sides of roads. Some species need to consume salt, but their winter diet doesn't contain much of it. They therefore approach roads in the spring, where the salt concentration is high, and their presence increases the risk of accidents.

The most important benefits

In short, there are many advantages and disadvantages of road salt. The benefits do, however, largely help compensate for the disadvantages, as winter road maintenance can significantly reduce the economic and social impact of snow accumulation.

The advantages and disadvantages of road salt
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