An early start to the winter driving season
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Nov 26, 2008  |  Vote 0    0

An early start to the winter driving season

St. Marys Journal Argus

Last weekend's heavy snowfall may have turned the area into a winter wonderland, but it's certainly made for less-than-wonderful road conditions - and reminded drivers that the season is a force to be reckoned with.But for some in St. Marys, the winter driving season started much earlier - back in balmy September, to be exact. Tom Donati, one of four owners of Ashton Tire, says that "we started installing winter tires at people's request in September," due to the perceived shortage of tires caused by a new law in Quebec which makes winter tires mandatory for all vehicles."There's a bad rumour going around that says we're running out (of winter tires because of the new law)," he says. "It's been a little more difficult, but we've been able to fill all of our orders and get them from wherever we need to get them," such as from New Brunswick and the United States, thanks to Ashton's position as a wholesaler to other dealers in the area. There has been no official discussion of implementing a similar law in this province.And there are a lot of orders to fill. "I can't even count how many sets we've put on," Donati says, "but it's at least 60 to 70 sets per day," coupled with eight to 10 truckloads shipped to various dealers each week.Donati says that most of what's installed these days are "ice and snow" tires. "They are a deeper grooved tire, made of a softer rubber compound" for better traction in slippery conditions, he says, adding that sipes - thin slits across the tire treads "grips better than what an all-season would."While he says "people should consider installing them in October," it's certainly not too late to get a full set for the coming winter months. "We strongly recommend four tires," he says. "It will keep you stabilized instead of putting you into a spin" as the two regular tires won't provide similar traction.According to the OPP, speed is a major factor in winter accidents because there is the chance that a vehicle will continue to slide on ice after strong braking. The best prevention is to simply drive slower and take extra care when turning corners. Or, if you can avoid making a trip in poor weather, do so.It's also important to check road conditions before heading out on longer trips. Updated conditions are available on the Weather Network, as well as on the Ministry of Transportation's website (www.mto.gov.on.ca - click on traveller's information) or by calling 1-800-268-4686. Make sure you're wearing your seat belt at all times, and that your cell phone is charged up in case of emergency. The OPP note that if you don't have hands-free technology for cell phone, pull well off the road to receive or make a call, if you must.If the weather takes a sudden turn for the worse and drivers are forced to pull off the road for a period of time (such as last week along Hwy. 402 after extreme snow squalls), a well maintained vehicle will be a great help. Have your vehicle tested (including battery, radiator, oil, lights, brakes, exhaust, heater, wipers and ignition system) before winter hits. It's also a good idea to keep an extra jug of windshield washer fluid in the car, and the reservoir topped up, as well as an ice scraper, emergency kit, extra blankets, candle and matches, and even some extra non-perishable foods in the trunk just to be on your safe side.Safer winter driving also comes from what's on the road itself. Dave Sharp, supervisor of public works for the town, says of this year's earlier-than-usual snowfall, "public works was still set up for leaf collection when winter started to hit." Regardless of the surprise, 2,400 tonnes of road sand - enough for St. Marys and some of the county's feeder roads into town - has already been ordered. Salt is shipped in on an as-needed basis, although Sharp says it's common to go through lots of salt earlier in the season, as lighter snowfalls result in more ice being created since it melts easier -- and temperatures are still hovering around the freezing mark.The biggest challenge for the road crews is dealing with the town's hills. "We have a lot of hills we try to stay on top of," says Sharp. The hill on Queen Street near Tim Horton's is a special challenge due to the heavy traffic, which packs snow down into ice.Two other town hills pose problems for public works and motorists alike.Sharp says that the hills on  James Street South near the town's industrial area can be difficult for trucks to navigate in snowy weather, while the hill on Jones Street East, between Wellington and Church, is difficult for everyone, regardless of how much salt or ploughing takes place."Just go around the block in the winter instead," Sharp says of the steep slope.

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