'The biggest thing is slow down'

Icy streets topped by fresh snow created some slick conditions Friday and the ditches and roadsides bore the metallic proof

Michele Young / Kamloops Daily News
January 5, 2013 01:00 AM

Truck driving instructor Ken Freeman takes the wheel of a car while talking with a Daily News reporter Michele Young.

Perched at a service station watching cars as they stop at a red light at Rogers Way and Highway 5A, Ken Freeman points to a sedan that zooms up and then hits the brakes hard to stop in time.

"He should have braked earlier," he says.

A truck drives up the incline to the gas station pumps, back wheels spinning to get a grip on the slippery asphalt.

"He could have driven up without sliding if he'd gone slower," Freeman observes.

Both drivers are going faster than necessary for roads that are slick with ice underneath the snow. They don't crash, but they don't have the control they could have if they just slowed down.

Road conditions Friday created piles of three, four or even five vehicles smashed into each other and lone SUVs on their sides or roofs in the highway ditches.

"The biggest thing is slow down. Keep your distance and slow early for stop signs," Freeman said.

He has spent 50 of his 70 years behind the wheel of semis; for the past 16 or so, he's taught others how to handle big rigs at Columbia Transport Training on the Thompson Rivers University campus.

"Everybody's so busy in their lives right now and driving's such a commonplace thing. They drive faster and faster," he said.

Freeman drives motorcycles in the summer, so he's aware of the dangers that all sizes of vehicles face on the road. His biggest piece of advice can be a hard one for the overbooked, tight-on-time masses to follow: "Slow down."

Officers were tied up much of the day dealing with piles of fender benders and rollovers, Kamloops RCMP Const. Bernie Ward said.

"I know we've attended about four incidents of traffic being tied up. The guys are still on the road," he said late in the afternoon.

"This type of temperature is about the worst you can get. It provides a little bit of slickness and the tires shine it up."

Drivers should slow down as soon as they see any shiny stretches on the road, particularly at intersections where braking and accelerating tires will polish the ice even more.

ICBC spokeswoman Michelle Hargrave didn't have crash numbers for this winter in Kamloops. But the corporation's statistics do show that in the Southern Interior, there are an average of 33 collisions resulting in injuries or death in the month of October, which triples to 109 collisions in January.

Snow and ice are factors in the road conditions that lead to that rise in numbers, she said.

ICBC's crash statistics for Kamloops from 2007 to 2011 show a rise in the winter months, but they also vary from year to year. Within that date range, the month with the most crashes was December of 2008, at 775. The lowest month was, oddly enough, February of 2010 at 299, but March, April and May had more consistently low counts.

What the numbers don't show is the number of drivers on the road, which rises in the summer months.

An average of 47 people die in speed-related crashes in the southern Interior every year. Speed can mean the thief zipping off in a stolen Ferrari at 160 km/h, but also applies to the soccer mom driving an SUV at 100 km/h on the Coquihalla in a snow squall.

"People just feel overconfident. There are a lot of people who have all-wheel drive who think they can drive like normal. But everybody needs to slow down and give lots of space to react to the vehicle in front of you," she said.

"It more comes down to driver behavior. If you're driving too fast, it doesn't matter what you're driving."

Murray Corke was driving a City plow Friday. Not fast, mind you.

As he navigated the narrow, sloped streets of the West End, he mapped out his routine.

Main streets - arterials and collectors like Columbia Street - get done first. Then side streets, particularly steep ones like McIntosh and Lee, West Nicola, Connaught and Clarke.

The slopes can take a few runs to get to the top; West Nicola required four or five tries. The truck spreads sand behind it, so if he slides backward, he can get enough traction to take another run.

The sliding didn't phase him. What does strike fear into Corke, who has been driving for 15 years, seven of them with the City, is a vehicle coming up over the top of a hill and sliding toward him.

He knows his route and the worst spots.

"First Avenue in a snowstorm is really bad," he said. So is the Summit Connector, Columbia Street and the Royal Inland Hospital road. Those are also his top plowing priorities.

Drivers who get frustrated and try to zip around the City plows should also take note: "We only have a little more traction than everybody else," Corke warned.

"Times like right now - give us a nice distance."

Distance is also what Freeman preaches.

"I build space around my vehicle. I do it religiously. So if he (another driver) does something stupid, he's not going to take me with him," he said.

He recalled driving in a snowstorm a few years ago - at a safe speed - and watching a 4X4 rip past. A short distance ahead, he saw a puff of snow fly up. When he got to that spot, the 4X4 was in a snowpile and the unhurt driver was looking surprised.

"He said, 'I don't know what happened. I have a 4X4,'" Freeman said, smiling at the recollection.

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Slow for snow, ice has a price

Common sense is the order of the day when the snow is flying or the streets are slick with ice.

Truck driving instructor Ken Freeman has a few points that will help keep you safe on the winter roads:

* Be alert. Be aware of everything around you. Keep your mind on your driving, not on problems at work or the list of chores waiting at home.

* When the roads are bad, reduce your speed to half of the allowed limit.

* Slow down and ease up on the gas and brake for better control.

* When you're at the top of a hill, take your foot off the gas and let the vehicle coast down. If it's slippery, this will help with staying slow and keeping control.

ICBC also offers winter driving tips on its web site at http://icbc.com/news/2012dec21-06

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