Province unveils plans for new winter driving regulations

By on April 4, 2018
Multiple vehicles were involved in a log-jam on Highway 5 south of Merritt brought on by heavy snow. (Photo from BC Transportation Twitter page)
The Coquihalla summit had a total snowfall of 830 centimetres from Oct. 1, 2017, to the end of February 2018 — 114 per cent higher than the 10-year average. (Photo from BC Transportation Twitter page)

 

Commercial truck drivers can expect to face stiffer penalties if they are caught without chains on B.C.’s highways next winter,

The cost for not carrying chains, or not chaining up when required, currently sits at $121. Though the new penalty is yet to be finalized, the press release from the B.C. government noted that fines in some jurisdictions in North America can be as stiff as $1,200 for similar violations.

The new fines were announced by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure as part of a series of measures designed to improve safety on B.C. highways during the winter. Other changes include barring commercial vehicles from using the far left lane on three-lane sections of the highway, introducing more overhead signage to display real-time weather updates and extending the mandatory winter tire regulations by a month on mountain passes such as the Coquihalla Highway.

Through January, there have been 35 closures of the Coquihalla Highway this winter, 31 of which involved commercial vehicles. On average, there are 21 full closures per winter, according to the B.C. government.

“I have heard from people and communities throughout the province that we need to take action to improve safety on our highways,” said Claire Trevena, minister of transportation and infrastructure in a statement. “With that in mind, our government is moving quickly to implement changes that will ensure people are able to get where they need to go more safely through the winter months.”

The proposed changes were heralded as a step in the right direction by Merritt’s Mayor Neil Menard, who met with Trevena in March to express his concerns about the state of the highways during the winter.

“We’ve been working hard on that for the last three years. I guess somebody is finally listening to us,” said Menard. “It’s great for the travelling public and it’s great for the city of Merritt.”

The changes introduced by the ministry of transport also include new monitoring tools to ensure highway contractors are sticking to the terms of their deals.

“Ministry staff will expand contractor monitoring and auditing, including 24/7 compliance checks during winter storms,” states the press release from the ministry of transportation.

New technology will also play a part in monitoring the performance of highway contractors, with GPS tracking to be added to snow plows.

“We talked to Minister Trevena when she was in opposition, and [gave] her information when she was the critic. Now she’s the minister. She was familiar with what we were doing, she listened to us,” said Menard.

In addition to the new regulations, highway contractors like VSA Highway Maintenance will have to adhere to a new agreement, should they pursue contract renewal in June 2019.

On Class A highways — such as the Coquihalla Highway — contractors will be required to return the road to bare pavement within 24 hours of a winter weather event’s end. The old standard called for a return to bare pavement within 48 hours of the storm ending.

The new contract will also require maintenance companies to increase in patrol frequency to four hours in anticipation of the weather event coming, whereas the old standard required patrols in 24 hour intervals.

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