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Why let a little thing like blizzard conditions make you 10 minutes late for work? (Diana Martin/Diana Martin/The Canadian Press)
Why let a little thing like blizzard conditions make you 10 minutes late for work? (Diana Martin/Diana Martin/The Canadian Press)

Road Sage

Another winter of discontent Add to ...

Dear Winter,

How's it going? Long time no swerve. Sorry not to have been in touch but, like a lot of Canadians, over the summer and fall I convinced myself you would never come back and then, when you did, I thought you wouldn't stay for long. But here you are - covering everything, being cold, and really slippery. Not going anywhere.

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Of course, if you went simply by how people drive you'd think it was summer all year round. The other day, for instance, an ice warning was in effect. The roads were transformed into slick, treacherous runways that could easily have masqueraded as ski jumps. Yet a guy driving a black Toyota Camry blew by me at such a high rate of speed that you would have sworn the pavement was as bone-dry as the kind you'd find on a sunny July afternoon. He was also tailgating, busily darting in and out of his lane trying to eke a little bit of advantage over his fellow motorists. He was probably on his cell phone. I couldn't tell. He was driving too fast. It was a bit like watching a drunk wave around a loaded firearm.

I did what most of us do when confronted by this kind of reckless stupidity: I fantasized that there was some way for him to get in an accident without any innocent people being involved.

Winter, do guys like this make you angry or do you find them motivational? Is that why you show up each year? Are you trying to teach us a lesson? 'Cause if you are, I can tell you - message received. Remember that kids' book you put out back in 1997: The ABCs of Winter Driving?

A is for Accelerate - don't do this if it's snowing.

B is for Blizzard - stay inside when snow is blowing.

C is for Corners - use caution when approaching.

D is for Distance - maintain it - no encroaching.

I thought it was a great book and you sold 300 copies (a bestseller in Canada) but you'd think a few more people might have picked it up.

Instead, most Canadians just try to ignore winter and its driving implications. Some of us slow down when conditions worsen and a few go to skid school in order to learn how to navigate icy streets. The rest? They go into denial and drive precisely the same way they would if the weather was fine. After all, why let a little thing like sub-zero temperatures, freezing rain and sleet, snow, wind and blizzard, make you 10 minutes late for work?

How can it be that so many Canadians drive the entire winter on "all-season" tires? We have four seasons in Canada. Always have. Always will. Okay, maybe we have two - winter and summer - but either way they are very different. You wouldn't wear a Speedo and sandals in January, why would you drive on the same tires you'd use in July?

Do you consider yourself nature's magnifying glass? That's what you are to me. Whatever a person's driving weakness is, you bring it out. If a guy is a speed demon, you'll coat the road with black ice and make him a racing menace. Maybe he's a nervous driver? You'll throw down a snowstorm and have him cowering in the left lane of the highway, going 60 km/h putting everyone in jeopardy with his snail-like pace.

When there is a blizzard in Virginia it makes sense for people to lose their minds, and slide and crash into each other. It snows there once every civil war. They have no notion of how to drive in those conditions. But Canadians don't have that excuse.

It's not like perils of winter driving are a secret. The mighty Internet is chock full of advice on how to drive in icy conditions. If you Google "winter driving" you get 1,600,000 hits. It's all there. Tips people could apply. You know, don't brake and turn, don't pump antilock brakes, if you do spin out look where you want your vehicle to go, look to the solution not the problem.

What's our excuse? Shouldn't we know better? Hockey is our national sport. Is there any other endeavour in which the violent cause and effect between high speed and fast ice is more painfully demonstrated?

Perhaps you just need to be a little patient. I'm sure by April most drivers will have gotten the message. They'll be driving slower and checking the Weather Network. But, by then, you'll be gone and we'll go back to forgetting.

In the meantime I will practise my ABCs.

Q is for Queensway - where slushy traffic runs amuck.

R is for Ramp - an "ice" place to get stuck.

S is Salt - rusting out my car.

T is for Tires - with treads that are sub-par.

U is for Understeer - loss of traction when you corner.

V is for … hmmm … I think this poem is over.

*****

Five driver habits that really grind my gears

Queue jumpers, lane blockers, gas pump dawdlers, parking lot prima donnas and stop-sign Samaritans: it's enough to make you road weary

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