A lot of winter driving tips just seem to be based on common sense but, according to Rick Gill, the general manager of Mainroad South Island Contracting, common sense is sometimes lacking as drivers allow poor planning, impatience or inattention to overtake logic.
“If you go out in the morning and you have to scrape your windows, it should be a clue that maybe the road conditions are not ideal,” said Gill. “If it’s snowing, maybe decide if your trip is even necessary.”
Mainroad is the company responsible for keeping the highways around Greater Victoria and many areas of the Cowichan Valley clear and safe during the winter months, but as much as they’ve prepared to face another winter, the first responsibility for road safety rests on drivers.
That’s why Mainroad has joined with the Ministry of Transportation and others in promoting the Shift into Winter campaign, an initiative to make winter driving safer for all concerned.
The campaign offers winter driving advice on items like the types of tires that can best meet the challenges of the area’s winter months (snow tires are required in some areas, including the Malahat), as well as winter driving tips for rainy nights and snow-covered roads.
But as much as those tips represent very good advice for drivers, Gill wants to stress some additional driving tips regarding the interaction between drivers and snow plows and sanding or brine trucks.
“We will be spreading about four million litres of brine on the roadways this winter. And while our trucks can apply the material at highway speeds, it’s a very bad idea to try to pass those vehicles or to travel too close behind them,” said Gill.
Brine is applied to the roadway to keep snow from packing and to help get rid of light snowfall as it drops onto roadways.
Should a heavy snow event take place, Mainroad sends its plows onto the highways and the situation becomes even more serious.
Chris Cowley, the operations manager for Mainroad, asks that drivers give snow plows plenty of space — about 10 car lengths.
“Salt and winter abrasives may be getting spread and those materials can fly — hitting cars that come too close,” said Cowley.
“Also, never try to pass a snow plow. The operator will eventually pull over when it’s safe to do so to allow motorists to pass, but trying to pass them can be very dangerous.”
Cowley added the plow could be equipped with wing blades (on either side) that may not be visible, particularly during snow events. It’s also possible that plows are engaged in what’s called echelon plowing, where the plow you’re passing may be only one of a series of two to four plows staggered diagonally across the roadway.
“Let’s face it, the roadway behind the plow will be better than what it is in front. Be patient and take your time,” he said.
“And don’t assume that the snow plow operator can see you, particularly if visibility is poor or if you’re following too close.”
Beyond keeping the highway clear of snow, Mainroad is also responsible for clearing anything that gets deposited on the roadways, including dead animals, car crash materials or weather debris. They employ their own weather forecaster to warn them of weather events that might impact the roadways, and work in close contact with RCMP and other agencies when roadways are closed due to an emergency event.
“We are trying to keep people safe and informed and let others do their jobs,” said Gill. “In the case of a serious delay, we’ve even handed out water bottles and energy bars to drivers caught in big delays. Mainroad knows that it’s your roads, and we’re on your team.”