If you live in British Columbia, you’ve driven on winter roads.
For those of us who live in a more rural and mountainous area, black ice and white-out conditions on our transportation corridors are no strangers; drivers learn to respect mother nature or they die. Sometimes drivers take innocent travellers with them, and sometimes, if they are very lucky, the foolhardy might survive.
Living in the North Thompson Valley means for most of us a daily commute on the Yellowhead Highway to places of employment as we travel both north and south no matter the season. We find the highway taken over by tourists in the summer, and by Old Man Winter from November to March.
Every winter, road conditions cause accidents on the Yellowhead.
An accident, according to my dictionary, is an unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally, that causes damage or injury.
Sounds pretty much bang on if you have ever come around a curve on a winter road at night and found yourself losing control of your vehicle on a patch of treacherous black ice. We get a lot of that here in the valley. Low cloud, fog, river mist; all hang close to the ground in winter where the temperatures of the blacktop quickly merge with the droplets in the air and create black ice for unsuspecting motorists.
There’s also the problem of warm days and freezing nights; when snow piled at roadsides, or from side hills, turns to water and runs across the highway. Once the sun goes down that small waterway on the road will quickly turn into a hockey rink; and as it freezes, even when there is sand on the roadway, it will also be covered and slicked over.
The Yellowhead was the scene of a terrible crash on Feb. 1, when a family of four lost their lives. It is suspected that the driver lost control of their vehicle on a curve, and the vehicle then drifted directly into the lane of an oncoming tractor trailer unit. Yes, the road was reported as very icy at the time, but it was also reported that there was plenty of sand on the road, but the melting runoff from the side of the road had covered the sand with a very thick layer of ice.
Whenever there is a deadly crash on icy roads the blame game begins. Blame the drivers, blame the equipment, blame the road crews, blame the weather.
But in retrospect sometimes we need to blame ourselves. At least that’s what I hear of one area commuter who reportedly travelled that same stretch of highway shortly before the horrific crash took place. Of note is the fact that as he came around that same curve he also lost control of his vehicle on the ice; but fortunately for him there was no oncoming traffic. Being an experienced driver, with winter tires on his vehicle, he was able gain control and continue on his way no worse for wear.
In hindsight though, if this driver had thought to stop and call the RCMP or area road crew, and advise them of the icy conditions on that particular stretch of road they could have responded, and perhaps he may have saved four lives. It’s a question he will carry for a long time.
This man’s experience should give us all pause for thought. Looking out for the other guy on winter roads should now take on a whole new meaning.
Stay safe out there.