Winter driving on the Malahat can be treacherous. (Photo submitted)

When winter weather meets Island drivers

Plan to arrive alive this Christmas season rather than taking unnecessary chances with driving speed

The first glimpse out of my bedroom window Tuesday morning caused my stomach to lurch.

Contrary to the rain near sea level and snow at high elevations that Environment Canada had forecast for the morning, snow covered the ground and more of it was falling steadily from the sky.

That didn’t bode well for my long drive to work, but I resigned myself to the inevitable and hoisted myself out of bed to prepare for a much more difficult day than I had bargained for.

About 20 minutes later, I joined the long line of cars slowly making their way to the highway.

The roads were slick and vehicles were moving at a snail’s pace on this first real winter’s day of the season, and when I came across a car that had slid into the ditch, my apprehension levels grew.

Added to that was the fact that a snowfall advisory was just issued for the region on the car radio, with the heavy snow expected to continue into the afternoon.

When I saw that the southbound lane on the highway was at a virtual standstill as I approached the intersection to join the traffic madness, likely the result of another weather-related accident ahead, I decided that it was time to abort the mission and head home.

It’s not my driving or my car — which has proven that it handles snow well over the years — that scares me so much about travelling in those conditions on the Island, but the other drivers.

It always astounds me that many drivers on the Island don’t seem to understand that it’s in everyone’s best interests, including their own, to slow down and drive with caution when in wet and slippery conditions.

I was shocked by how many cars and trucks I saw in ditches and wrapped around trees driving back and forth to work during those two awful weeks of winter we experienced last February.

I even came across one pickup truck that had somehow managed to find itself straddling the concrete centre barrier on Highway 1 in Chemainus one morning.

There was no apparent damage to the truck, but it was hung up about three feet off the ground in a vertical position across the highway.

The driver was pacing back and forth along the side of the highway looking worried as he waited for a tow truck, although I had to wonder how the tow truck would be able to extract the vehicle from the top of the median.

It’s understandable that many Island drivers aren’t used to driving in winter conditions.

After all, we typically only get about two weeks of winter weather every year here, if we get any at all.

I grew up back east, where winter driving is a reality of life for up to six months of the year, so people there usually know enough to have snow tires on their vehicles in the cold months, and to slow down and drive cautiously in wet and slippery conditions.

I’m always shocked and concerned when I see Islanders driving at or near the speed limit on icy roads with all-season tires on, and they will even tailgate drivers in front of them who are driving cautiously in an effort to get them to move faster.

It’s surprising that there aren’t more accidents on our highways at this time of year, although there are too many as it is.

It’s Christmastime and people will be travelling extensively on the Island for the next two weeks.

So let’s slow down out there, people, and make sure you and your families arrive at your destinations alive.

Let’s not ruin the holiday season with a tragedy.

Robert Barron is a reporter with the Cowichan Valley Citizen. He can be reached at Robert.Barron@cowichanvalleycitizen.com.

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