The rules of winter driving on Vancouver Island are hard and fast. As in don’t brake hard, and don’t drive fast.
“It’s funny, the first cars you see in the ditch after the first snowfall are the 4x4s,” says DriveWise co-owner Arthur Harris.
Harris says many drivers of trucks and SUVs assume they don’t have to change their driving habits once the snow falls.
“It’s a totally different kind of driving,” he says. “Turns good drivers into bad drivers.”
The fleet of DriveWise instructional vehicles sits idle at their Saanich headquarters. Driving lessons have been postponed due to conditions.
“You don’t want to have that fear factor in a new driver,” Harris says.
While many people on Vancouver Island grew up driving in other parts of Canada, he says the snow that falls on the West Coast poses a different challenge.
“The light, fluffy snow just kind of flutters away as you’re driving over it. This stuff that gets underneath your tires and into your tread, it’s more slushy.”
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ICBC cancelled all driving tests in Victoria Wednesday and Thursday, and a recent study released by the insurance corporation found a 31 per cent spike in speed-related crashes in the month of January compared to October.
Harris started DriveWise in 1975, and while he’s driven in every type of conceivable conditions, winter always shows him something new.
“I’m always surprised,” he laughs. Harris says short trips don’t require much planning, but venturing further should involve some preparation.
“If you’re going to the corner store you don’t need to plan. But if you’re headed to say, Duncan, you need to think of what you’ll do if you get stuck. Do you have a shovel? Do you have a snow brush? Do you have a bag of kitty litter?”
Regardless of what you drive, Harris says simple tips in stopping and starting can mean the difference between staying on the road and ending up in the ditch.
“When you’re coming to a stop on ice, put your car in neutral when you’re getting down into the first gear range. It takes the power away from the driving wheels and then just gently braking the rest of the way,” he said.