Steve Wallace: Winter tires key to safe driving in snow

The winter blast of this past week brought a cruel reminder that we live in Canada.

The lower Island, particularly Victoria, was hit by the polar vortex, a fancy new term for the temperature dropping and the probability of precipitation in the form of snow. I am not sure whether this relatively new term is meant to better describe the weather pattern or just scare us.

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Where was this vortex term when I was a young guy trudging to a swim-team workout in Winnipeg at 6 a.m. in minus-30 temperatures every second day on weekdays? My sergeant-major father thought it would build character — if, of course, it did not kill me in the process.

Regardless of how you describe last week’s weather, it made driving messy and dangerous. Most drivers, erring on the side of caution, chose to stay at home, and rightly so. For those who had to work and others needing to perform mandatory tasks, it was quite an experience.

Tires are the only part of the vehicle touching the road surface. It’s so important for drivers to have winter or at least all-season tires. The deeper and wider the groves, the better. The snowflake symbol on the side of the tire identifies the intended use.

Braking on snow-covered roads should be done with a light touch in older-model vehicles. The brake-release-steer method is best. This will prevent lockup, when steering has no effect on directional control.

Most vehicles now have ABS (anti-lock braking systems). Younger drivers have little trouble hitting the brakes and keeping the pedal down the entire time while steering, since the anti-lock option will work its magic.

Older drivers often reduce the efficiency of the ABS by pumping the brakes, as they were taught to decades ago. It’s a tough habit to break, and takes practise.

Most drivers misjudge the distance it takes to stop in an emergency. Throw in an ice- or snow-covered surface and there is a great potential for a rear-end collision. Many intersections have been converted to a circular format, where stopping is not always necessary, reducing the likelihood of the rear-ender.

Visibility is the most important aspect of driving. Clearing the snow from the entire surface of the vehicle is paramount, particularly the roof. Modern automobiles are fantastic. They have heated wipers, windshields, mirrors and seats, as well as other amenities never contemplated in the bygone days of driving by the seat of your pants.

The best drivers on the road are the ones guiding the buses around town. If personal driving is not safe, this option is always the next best thing.

Many cab drivers are ready for this type of weather. Some are not. Ask if the proper tires are being used before booking.

There are some really brave souls who have been riding their bikes during the snow. Special tires are an advantage in snow.

Bob alerted me to the recurring rat problem on the Island. He ended up with a $400 bill to repair the wiring in his coveted Lexus. Apparently, rats like the rubber and insulation under the hood. They feasted on the soy in the wire covering. They seem to want to chew on something vegetable-based. Who knew vehicle wiring would be a delicacy?

My cousin’s vehicle went completely dead in traffic because of this rat problem, resulting in a $978 repair bill. Even the four-way flashers would not work when the car died in traffic on the busiest road in Victoria.

The warmth of the vehicle is an attractant at this time of year. This solution was mentioned in a previous column. Tie fabric-softener sheets under the hood. Rats hate the smell.

Steve Wallace is the owner of Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island. He is a former V.P. of the Driving Schools Association of the Americas, a registered B.C. teacher and U of Manitoba graduate.

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