It’s over - well, maybe! One is never quite sure. In the past, every province in The Great White North has seen white manna fall from the sky every month of the year. We can only hope that this will NOT be one of those years!
Since moving to Alberta, my driving habits have changed somewhat, not necessarily for the better, but on occasion, one is required to play dodgem rather than bumper car, as in a carnival midway. Speed limit signs here are generally treated with LOL attitudes, and windshield damage insurance is either unavailable or unaffordable. Winter driving is definitely not for the faint of heart.
Where we live just north of Calgary, it has yet to be warm enough to sit outside in the sun. The wind from the mountains is still chilly and unrelenting. Of course, there are still the butch guys who will wear shorts and a t-shirt while suffering hypothermia to impress whom it hasn’t yet been determined.
This past season was not particularly climate-friendly in other parts of our great nation. The 2023 Farmers’ Almanac predicted “Labrador, Newfoundland, Quebec, Ontario, and the Great Lakes—will more often than not see winter’s precipitation fall as snow, and sometimes a lot of it. The Prairie Provinces will be hit the hardest this year with tons of snow in both January and February. British Columbia should see about an average amount of winter precipitation, but with brisk temperatures, skiing should be decent this upcoming season.” That legendary publication suggested that Canuckistan would be in for a “shake, shiver and shovel” ‘22/’23 winter season and it was bang-on!
Weather-related vehicle accidents kill more people annually than large-scale weather disasters such as tornadoes, hurricanes, etc.
In Canada, there are at least 160,000 car accidents yearly, resulting in upwards of 3,000 fatalities. Economic loss and healthcare costs are over $10 billion annually. Add commercial vehicle mishaps to these statistics, and they become astonishingly high. A minimum of one-quarter of these incidents occur over the winter. Some one-third are rear-enders. Most would be avoidable if the proper distance was maintained between vehicles. Twelve avalanche deaths have also been attributed to the severe conditions during the ‘22/’23 season. Careful recognition of hazardous conditions also needs to take place in risky non-mobile recreation areas. Road closures due to snow slides are frequent in BC, where gun emplacements are strategically located to trigger an avalanche before it can attack the highway and cause mayhem.
I witnessed a particularly bad one in the late ‘60s which occurred atop the Spiral Tunnels Big Hill. Large trees were uprooted, and huge boulders rolled down the slope, badly twisting the railway tracks. One of Arnold Bros. cabover Freightliners had the top sliced off the cab right at the door window level. Luckily the driver got wet but escaped serious injury. So don’t grumble when you are delayed by avalanche control. Just be thankful you are safe and enjoy some quality time off!
Some vehicle corridors are more notorious than others. The Highway 400 series in Ontario comes to mind, as does number 2 between Edmonton and Calgary. The Trans-Canada Highways 11 and 17 are currently under a petition to complete twinning. They are considered an embarrassment to Canada’s 900,000-mile highway system. Richard Deschamps, a driver for Enterprise G. LaJoie, who runs Montreal to the west coast, created the petition, the 2nd of its kind, to address the issues facing drivers on these routes. He just lost an acquaintance in a head-on collision and said, “I just started to get tired of statistics – friends dying, near misses, not sure if I’m going to make it home.” One wonders why, if according to documents tabled in the House of Commons, Canada’s Prime Minister can spend over $162,000 on a winter vacation, funds are not available to make Canada’s roads safer for commercial and private use.
The shortage of qualified drivers is one serious reason for concern. Often young drivers are set free with little or no experience in all-season driving, and Northern Ontario and British Columbia present challenges that even put a seasoned veteran’s skills to the test. One pundit recently spoke with a driver dispatched to the west coast from the East who had never driven in snow before. This is completely irresponsible and wrong; however, some carriers just shrug their collective shoulders and ask, “What else can we do?” How about adequate training, including a team driving period with an experienced driver? I know the bottom line suffers a bit, but consider the loss accompanying a serious crash involving multiple injuries or death.
This conundrum heavily burdens the industry and the personnel that drive it forward, including the greatest resource of all, you, the human operators. It is incumbent on you to set the standard of quality expected from a professional highway engineer. This would not only elevate the way the general public sees you but would also positively influence the safety and well-being of everyone and ultimately increase the bottom line. How terrible would that be? Difficult to accomplish? Possibly a tad strenuous, however doable in the universal scheme of things, don’t cha think? Drive safely, perform at least one random act of kindness daily - and don’t forget to wash behind your ears … 10-4!