Winter is on its way and if experience is our guide, the first heavy snowfall will result in a mosh pit of tangled metal and irritated drivers stuck in prolonged road closures on the Sea to Sky Highway.
But before we start tearing our hair out, let’s remember we’re not alone in the traffic havoc department.
According to Tristin Hopper, who is a reporter with the National Post, a volatile mixture of driver arrogance and recklessness invariably causes a spike in accidents after an inaugural dump of the white stuff.
He says “It’s one of our greatest national shames that a country defined by winter is so consistently bad at greeting it each year.”
During a near-record snow squall, this past September the city of Calgary dealt with 168 vehicle crashes. Earlier this month there were more than 350 collisions when a storm blanketed Edmonton with snow. And anybody who wants a sobering illustration of winter driving mayhem in B.C. should watch a few episodes of Highway Thru Hell. That popular documentary TV series is based on the hair-raising experiences of several heavy-duty towing outfits plying their trade on the Coquihalla Highway.
Closer to home, in late December of 2017, after an early-season snowstorm, Global News described the steep hill just north of Alice Lake as “a parking lot for most of the afternoon.”
According to that account “People just couldn’t make it up and if you lost your momentum you were finished, you were just stuck there.”
Tow truck operators at the scene were “frustrated at everyone’s lack of preparation.”
About the same time a year later, the RCMP reported that 25 vehicles slid into a ditch along the Sea to Sky Highway in the vicinity of the Big Orange Bridge and Rubble Creek following the first day of snow in the area.
The signs along the highway clearly state winter tires or chains are required between Oct. 1 and March 31. Under the Motor Vehicle Act, drivers can be fined and turned back if police believe their tires are unsafe. Notwithstanding that well-publicized edict, insomuch as official roadside tire checks are few and far between, driver non-compliance is a valid concern.
And even though winter tires are beneficial accessories, with certain inattentive, rules-challenged drivers behind the wheel, they are akin to installing a screen door on a submarine. All-wheel drive vehicles have similar limitations.
No matter how you slice it, when the rubber meets a slippery road, at a speed unsuitable for the circumstances, the outcome is bound to be unpleasant.
Keeping that in mind, after they were installed, the electronic variable speed limit signs, tailored to conditions on sections of the Sea-to-Sky Highway, were hailed as a traffic-regulating panacea aimed at curbing the frequency and severity of weather-related crashes.
Despite their obvious potential, without consistent enforcement, those digital speed recommendations are frequently ignored with impunity.
Everything considered, getting the message out there that caution is the operative word on our roads at this time of the year and beefing up an anemic enforcement agenda will go a long way towards reducing winter driving mishaps.