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No bad roads, just bad drivers

Published December 14, 2012

Winter driving can be hell on wheels when you’re trying to get somewhere and nasty weather blows in out of nowhere.

Anyone living in Ontario knows it can happen just like that, on a road trip anywhere from Windsor to Wiarton, Kenora to Cornwall or Toronto to Timmins.

Even the best drivers with top-of-the-line winter tires can be caught off guard — on curves, hills or even wide-open straight stretches.

“It’s not related to the road as much as it is related to the driver’s actions,” says Sgt. Pierre Chamberland, the OPP’s media relations co-ordinator. “We have the safest roads in North America in Ontario and the bottom line comes down to driver’s actions. We’re trying to educate the public to drive in accordance with the weather and road conditions.”

Chamberland points out that bad weather can quickly turn a stretch of roadway into a nightmare, such as the massive daylight blizzard that trapped about 300 people in cars and trucks along Hwy. 402 near Sarnia two years ago this week.

Military helicopters and buses were used to rescue people stranded along a 30-km stretch of the highway throughout the day and overnight.

“It became a huge rescue operation and it may never happen there again. It all depends on the kind of weather that blows in,” says Chamberland. “It can be an absolutely sunny day and, half an hour later, you can be in a driving blizzard.”

Police urge all motorists to check weather and road reports before setting out. You can get winter road conditions from the Transportation Ministry’s website at www.mto.gov.on.ca or by calling 1-800-268-4686 or 416-235-4686.

Also listen to radio reports before heading out and always consider delaying the drive if bad weather is in the forecast. It’s wise to let friends and family know about your destination and expected arrival time.

When on the road, keep an eye out for the flashing lights of snow clearing and emergency vehicles, slow down as you approach them, never pass around or between them and always move over for any approaching emergency vehicles.

Extreme weather may result in the closing of highways. Do not attempt to drive on these highways until they are reopened. It’s for your safety and it is against the law to drive on a closed highway.

The ministry also offers these winter-driving tips:

Be alert. Keep focused on the road and other vehicles; eliminate all distractions and make sure you’re well rested.

Slow down. Drive according to the weather conditions and keep a safe distance between you and the vehicle ahead to avoid having to brake suddenly on the slippery surfaces.

Stay in control. Make sure you know how to handle your vehicle in all weather conditions.

Being prepared also means having your car winterized and in good mechanical shape, with the right tires, plenty of windshield wiper fluid in the reservoir and a jug in the trunk, and a snow brush/ice scraper. It’s a good idea to have a winter survival kit packed, especially if you’re venturing beyond the city.

The kit should include a shovel, sand or other traction aid, a tow rope or chain, booster cables, road flares or warning lights, gas line antifreeze, flashlight and batteries, first-aid kit, fire extinguisher, small tool kit, extra clothing and footwear, blanket, non-perishable energy foods such as chocolate or granola bars, juice, soup, bottled water. A candle, a small tin can and matches can be used to generate heat while waiting for help in your stranded vehicle.

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