Winter conditions have tested lower mainland and southern Vancouver and Gulf Island drivers this week. The results have been predictable—a huge increase in minor accidents and at least two reported fatal accidents. One of the fatal accidents appears to have been speed-related as well as weather-related, with a Ford Mustang reportedly traveling at over 200 km/hr into a utility pole.
Safe winter driving is all about speed control. Once a driver has cleared the snow and ice from all the windows and lights and if need be, the hood and roof, and then checked on the current road conditions, controlling speed is the key to driving safely on snowy and icy roads. Perhaps the best way to achieve this is to leave early. By allowing more time to get to a destination there may be no need to feel rushed. “Leaving early” may also be used as a strategy to avoid some traffic.
Snow on a road can present a countless variety of difficulties. It can be hard-packed and slippery as a ski slope. It can be rutted, and full bone-jarring gullies. It can be smooth and soft which, if the tires are in good shape is manageable. Wet snow makes for slushy and messy but usually drivable roads.
Even when the rest of the pavement is in good condition, in freezing temperatures, sections such as shaded areas, bridges and overpasses may present particular danger due to lack of traction. These sections of roadway freeze faster, stay frozen longer, and are more likely to have patches of so called “black ice”—areas that, if seen at all, appear black and shiny, and can cause a vehicle to lose traction instantaneously.
When encountering black ice, it may be best to avoid the use of brakes. One technique is to shift into neutral or step on the clutch to slow your vehicle down as it travels across this treacherous surface. Perhaps the simplest caution is to be driving slowly in the first place.
Drivers should never try to out-drive the road conditions, based on expectations of travel time in accordance with clear road conditions. The posted speed limits are for ice-free pavement. The “speed limit” for icy conditions may be virtually no speed at all.
In BC most drivers have very little experience in controlling a vehicle in treacherous, icy conditions. This means that most of the motorists on a snow-covered road are really at or beyond their ability to properly control a vehicle that is losing traction. So even if a driver is doing a good job of controlling the situation, there are plenty of others on the edge of losing control. Best to look ahead as far as possible, for impending chain collisions or vehicles sliding from the oncoming lane. If a driver sees a crisis looming ahead, and if that driver is going slowly, there may be no need to turn the steering wheel suddenly, and brake or accelerate suddenly, all of which could cause loss of control under freezing conditions.
Please drive safely.