Thursday, December 19, 2013

Drive, He Said

According to the most recent forecasts, my area will be hit this weekend by some sort of storm. I say 'some sort' because the temperature is supposed to be somewhere right around zero, and the exact track of the storm is impossible to predict even a day out.
Aside: So many people bitch about how the weather forecasters can't ever get anything right...anyone who knows weather at all marvels at how often they nail the forecast, especially around here. The Great Lakes region is among the most difficult on the entire planet to forecast accurately. The jet stream rides right through here much of the time: one little bubble or dip causes drastically different weather. What's more, there are a myriad of microcurrents off the lakes that cause all manner of weather havoc. My father lives almost within sight of a weather radar tower that was placed where it is because his weather is decidedly crazy. Storms either split north and south of him, leaving him dry, or they actually hit him, then seem to circle back and hit him again.
Anyway, back to this impending storm. It could be rain, snow, ice pellets, freezing rain, or any combination thereof. The odds are very good, we're told, that there will be a significant period of freezing rain causing ice accretions of 20-30mm. That's only a fraction of what came down in 1998...but it'd be enough to ensure widespread chaos. 

Our Weather Network, which in recent years has been treating anything worse than a passing cloud as a MAJOR WEATHER EVENT and which actually issues 'snowfall warnings' when white stuff is going to fall from the sky in Canada in winter, has yet to issue any official warnings about this coming storm. This, quite frankly, shocks me. Southern Ontario is under s special weather statement as I write this, but I've yet to see the WeatherEye icon on my desktop flashing doom at me. 

Come Monday, we may be without power, living in the middle of a vast skating rink. Or we could be buried under 30+ cms (a foot or more) of snow, with the snowsqualls that always set up in the wake of systems like this adding to our misery. In that case, I will understand if people stay home.

But I read something in this morning's Globe and Mail that really rubbed me the wrong way. It's in the Drive section--for a guy with no license, I really do spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about cars--and it's one of those fluff pieces about good, bad and ugly winter drivers.

Here's what it has to say about the good drivers:

"There are some great drivers because they know better. They're at home, watching news reports and while wondering if it's a case of a forecaster crying wolf, they're glancing at their schedule and removing anything that doesn't involve delivering meals to shut-ins or performing a life-saving transplant. The Good stay home.  The chances of being involved in a collision are greatly reduced if you don't leave your driveway."

Do you see how this works? Good winter drivers don't drive in the winter. Remarkable. Most skills require you to practice them for you to become proficient. Here's someone telling you if you want to become a really great winter driver, you should throw your keys in the first November snowbank you find and then retrieve them when that snowbank melts in April.

Some of us don't have the option of telecommuting. If we don't show up at work, we don't get paid; we may even face disciplinary action. Since 'staying home' is not a feasible option, perhaps we should concentrate on something more constructive, such as actually teaching people how to drive in the winter and making that driving proficiency a requirement to get and keep a licence.

Yes, I said 'keep'. I think licenses should expire every 52 or 64 months--every four and a third or five and a third years. To renew, you'd have to take a road test. And the odd timing ensures that sooner or later you'll have to take that test on ice. As it stands right now, you can actually CANCEL your test without penalty in cases of snow or freezing rain. Tell me how that makes sense. 

Now, I don't drive. But I am a keen observer of drivers, over decades, and I can tell you the paranoia about winter driving is a relatively recent phenomenon. They never used to pull the school busses off the roads unless things were really dire; on multiple occasions over the past five years I've seen entire schools, including colleges and universities, SHUT DOWN without any precipitation of any kind having fallen, simply because somebody said it might.
Once upon a time, when you found yourself in a ditch, it was clearly your own fault. Today the entire concept of 'fault' is foreign to many people, especially many young people who have been raised without fault or consequence. 
I can tell you this push for mandatory snow tires is also fairly new. I'm not going to tell you that snow tires are unnecessary. Fact is, given the quality of drivers on today's roads, they're more necessary than they should be. And while they really do help you control your vehicle in winter conditions, if people actually drove according to those conditions, all-season radials would be sufficient for all but the worst winter could throw at you (in which case, yes, you should actually stay home anyway). 

This reminds me of the way hockey has (d)evolved over the last thirty years. Helmets are mandatory, all manner of padding is mandatory, and there are more injuries today than there ever were. I think it's at least partly because of all the protective equipment. People think they're invincible on ice.But ice remains slippery, and if you play hockey, or drive, on it without respect for the people you're sharing the ice surface with, sooner or later it's going to come back to bite you in the ass.

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