A deadly start to winter

Trent Ernst, Editor


Winter has only just reared its ugly head, but already it has claimed a number of lives.

On October 27 at 8:40 PM, a minivan, driving between Hudson’s Hope and Fort St. John failed to negotiate a turn, went into the ditch and rolled.

The van was carrying two males, both of whom were thrown from the vehicle and killed.

The very next day, a man was seriously injured when a pickup truck crashed into the back of a semi trailer. The trailer was stopped in a line behind several other vehicles when the pickup lost control and rear-ended the vehicle.

The day after that, October 29, a third person was killed when a semi truck collided with a Pontiac Aztek westbound on Highway 2 near Swan Lake. The driver of the Aztek was killed.

Much of the snow that fell last week has already melted away, but drivers shouldn’t get complacent. The weather can change in an instant, and what looks like a perfectly clear patch of pavement could be black ice in disguise.

Corporal Dave Tyreman says that it’s always a sad thing when there is a fatal accident. “It’s disheartening any time there’s a life lost. It’s tragic. One life lost is one too many.”

He says the best way to protect yourself against winter conditions is to not travel. “If it’s a blizzard out,” he says, “stay indoors.”

And while people getting killed on the roads is horrific, even the minor fender benders cause issues. “All these collisions affect our ICBC rates,” he says. “The more payouts, the more the rates go up for everyone.”

But sometimes you can’t avoid driving in the winter. “Slow down,” he says. “It’s winter time and the roads are icy. Take your time.”

According to ICBC, the posted speed limits are designed for ideal road conditions. If there’s snow, slush or ice, slow down. Here are some more winter driving tips to keep you safe:

Even with winter tires on, stopping distances are far longer in winter than they are in summer. Always give yourself at least twice the normal braking distance.

Always be careful when approaching highway maintenance equipment, and never pass on the right. If the conditions are really bad, it is probably safer to just stay behind the plow or sand truck.

When it is snowing heavily, use your low beams.

In extreme cold conditions, fuel can freeze. If you keep your tank topped up, it will help prevent gasoline from freezing.

Always check road and weather conditions before heading out. www.drivebc.ca or 1-800-550-4997.

If you happen to hit black ice and your tires lose grip on the road, don’t slam on the brakes. Instead, take your foot off the accelerator, and steer smoothly in the direction you want to go. If your vehicle starts to fishtail, you may have to counter-steer a few times before regaining control.

If you do wind up stuck in a snow bank, do your best to clear the snow away from around the tires and under the vehicle; often times the vehicle will get hung up on a lump of snow, reducing the amount of traction the tires have.

Try and increase traction. Kitty litter, sand, salt or even an old carpet can help the tire get a better grip. Rock the vehicle back and forth by shifting to forward to reverse, trying not to spin your tires, as that is a sign you’ve lost traction. It also melts the snow and creates an icy patch beneath your tire, which also doesn’t help.

Pat McTiernan is Staff Sargent and operations NCO for North District Traffic. He says, while not all the accidents that happen during winter are caused by the weather, he sees people not driving appropriately for the conditions all the time. That’s one of the reasons that for the month of November, the RCMP is doing a campaign about it. “In the north, it’s about adjusting from confident summer, dry road conditions, where we went into that curve at 115 kph and there was no problem to winter weather, where you hit that curve at 115 kph and you’re off in the bushes.”

The campaign will cover tips for driving in winter, including things like: proper tires, working lights and cleaning windows before driving.

He says that this time of year can have the most weather related incidents. “It goes up over zero during the day, and it creates runoff, which freezes over night. Or there’s frost. Or it rains. Tomorrow morning you’re dealing with frost or black ice. The conditions have changed, but people don’t realize that. We see people following too closely, we see people not driving to conditions. The road is slippery. You need to give consideration to the conditions.”

He says that drivers need to drive defensively and paying attention to what issues might be created by the weather conditions.

“The other thing that causes problems at this time of year is that there’s no cushion. If you go off the road in November, you hit rocks and trees. In December and January, you have snow, which can cushion you in a roll-over, so there’s less damage.”

McTiernan says it’s not the rules of the road that people who drive more aggressively than conditions warrant should worry about, but the laws of physics. “If you’re speeding in summer you might get a ticket. But once your tires lose traction with the pavement, it’s all over.”