Famous Last Words

Car Stuck in Snow“My tires aren’t the greatest, there’s really no point living in Vancouver to get, you know, snow tires. But yeah, a little slippery, but just drive slow, you’ll be fine.” These words of wisdom came from a young woman standing on an icy city street with a dog under her arm and a small child in tow. Do you think that this is a reasonable outlook for winter driving in the lower mainland, or anywhere else in B.C. for that matter?

We all practice risk management in our lives and the purchase of a good set of winter tires and other safety equipment for our vehicles is part of this consideration. Too often the part of the equation that tips the balance is our bank account rather than the perception of the possibility of risk when we drive. Worse still, some will realize the risk but drive anyway.

This past October I received a large number of e-mails from people wanting to know if they needed winter tires to drive to a particular destination. Not surprisingly, a lot of these trips were from Vancouver to Whistler. My reply is always that M+S tires may meet legal requirements, but here’s a link to all the winter tire related articles on my web site. I hope that they review them and decide that the increased traction affecting starting, stopping and steering will convince them that M+S tires may not be enough.

Perhaps I was lucky to have started my policing career at Mile 47 of the Alaska Highway. When winter came the police vehicles always had 4 winter tires. The trunk had a shovel, sandbags, flares, a tow cable and emergency blankets. I added a hockey bag of extra cold weather clothing to the reflective vest, flashlight and red cone that I carried every day.

After a bit of experience with collision investigation, seeing what happens to other drivers and having my own troubles on the road, extra equipment has crept into the back of my personal vehicle too. I like to be able to rely on myself to get out of trouble and lend a hand to others when needed.

I always carry a flashlight, reflective vest, flares and reflective triangles, jumper cables, fuses and spare bulbs. For winter travel I add a blanket, shovel, tow chain, tire chains and other odds and ends. It doesn’t cost me much to keep them with me and manage them as the seasons change.

You can choose to add other things to your kit such as the best of your worn windshield wipers. I’ve broken the driver’s side wiper in the cold and was lucky enough that the passenger side wiper was the same length. That is not always the case these days as the passenger side wiper can be too long to use on the driver’s side.

The lady did have one part of the equation right however and that is the slow down part. The best way to get out of trouble is to avoid it.

I have two thoughts to finish up with. The first is for those driving four wheel and all wheel drive vehicles: you may have great “go” but you have the same “stop” as everyone else. The last is that a set of true winter tires is probably about the same cost as your collision insurance deductable.


Snow, Ice and other fun things

In my younger days, I did a lot of rally driving through the Pacific Northwest, much of it in winter. Although I never competed in the Shell 4000 rallies, I competed against several of our local driver/navigator teams who did. I was known to be "quick/fast" depending upon whether I passed or followed the car ahead. Tire technology in those days was not what it is today.  Nor were the braking systems or power.  Hwy 99 above Brackendale was a two rut goat track that followed the power lines up to Lillooett .... and was a real fun road when frozen.

With that in my background, I can't but agree that if you're going to drive outside the lower mainland (and that includes north of Horseshoe Bay), you need very good "winter" tires.  All season and even some of the M&S don't cut it.  I learned "threshold braking" long before they came up with ABS and actually prefer NOT to have ABS. But that's old instincts that still kick in when I'm going sideways.

Your article above is excellent advice but I would add just a bit:  If you find a tailgater on your back bumper, slow down and leave even more room in front of you. If you have to slow or stop, do it with minimal deceleration so that "idiot" doesn't end up in your trunk. Of course, if you're on a multi-lane road, keep right and wave the twit past .... it's far safer to have him/her in front of you than behind.

And just drive your own car.  Let the police assess the driving of others (I keep telling my wife this) .  

Having spent a good portion

Having spent a good portion of my life driving in areas similar to Mile 47 of the Alaska Highway, which at one time I did work on for 2 years agree with your comments. Only thing I would add is that I prefer studded snow tires and have always used them in winter. Being on the lazy side my kit in the trunk stays year round. In fact I have used the tire chains to navigate a greasy hill in the middle of summer. And that heavy jacket or blankets is appreciate by someone that has just had an accident even in the middle of summer. In the interior those summer evening can be cool.

One thing you may want to consider is a pair of rubber caulk boots. Mine take a felt liner, have an aversion to cold feet, but there is nothing better when having to walk on a section of road that is glare ice. Saved me many a fall.

I am sure Hawk is talking about the SW portion of B.C. with far more traffic but I would not follow his suggestion of slowing down when a person gets to what you consider tailgating. Why antagonize a person. Either keep going at the same speed or I know few sections of road in this province where one cannot put your right turn signal on, move over and let the person by.

Generally I am one that is driving over the speed limit but find in many cases in the winter that I am one of the slower. What I find interesting is that when the road is wet usually from the salt melting the ice that when they hit a section of road where it is not wet they speed up. Thing is they have gone from a wet road which other than being dirty due to the sand and salt mixture is no different than any wet road in summer to driving on solid ice. The salt truck just hasn't got to that section yet. Unfortunately a few of them hit the ditch before they figure out what they are driving on.

My tires aren't the best

Meant to comment of this.

If you can't afford snow tires even in Vancouver I would recommend that on snowy days you leave the vehicle at home or if at work take public transit home.

Even driving slow does not change the fact that you do not have complete control of your car due to your tires. You probably would not drive with bald tires in the summer so why do something almost the same just because it is winter?

Here is an interesting video of Bumper Cars in Montreal on YouTube. You will notice in most cases the wheels are not turning, just sliding.

Sliding on ice

Of all the drivers in that video the taxi driver was the smartest one. At a very slow speed you can steer on ice, but ONLY if your wheels are turning. The steering wheel is useless when you are skidding, take your foot off the brake, let your wheels start to roll again and steer where you want to go. Very light brake pressure should also help you to not continue picking up speed.

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