British Columbia

Officials preach chain preparedness following wild snow week in B.C. mountain passes

Some highway maintenance crews are concerned not all commercial drivers are chaining up when required to.

Some highway maintenance crews concerned not all commercial drivers chaining up when required

Gabriel Navalander, the operations manager with Emcon, says many semi-drivers wind up spinning out, because they either don't know how to put chains on or are unwilling to put them on. (CBC)

After a busy week keeping mountain passes clear of snow, some highway maintenance crews in B.C. say not all commercial drivers are doing enough to keep highways safe.

Emcon Services, the contractor that keeps highways clear around Revelstoke, Golden and Radium Hot Springs, says this week's dump of snow and the dangerous driving conditions it created, is a reminder to commercial drivers to have chains and to know how to use them and put them on.

"It becomes a massive operation just for one single semi spinning out, because he doesn't know how to put [on] chains or is willing to put the chains on," said Gabriel Navalander, the operations manager with Emcon.

Between Wednesday and Thursday, dozens of centimetres of snow fell in the area that Emcon services.

A vehicle buried in snow after being parked for several days in Glacier National Park near Rogers Pass the week of Dec. 31, 2018. (Jeff Horncastle)

Navalander says there still were several cars and commercial vehicles that ended up off the road, even though Highway 1 between Revelstoke and Golden — Rogers Pass — was closed Thursday for avalanche control from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

"These passes [are] not the same as driving in Vancouver," he said.

Provincial rules dictate that commercial drivers who travel outside of Greater Vancouver and Greater Victoria are required to carry chains or other acceptable traction devices and comply with all signage and regulations.

Poorly installed or not at all

Although this week's storm missed parts of the Coquihalla, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure says last winter 33 of 35 extended closures on the Coquihalla involved commercial vehicles.

"In most cases, this was due to truck drivers either poorly installing chains or not using them at all," said a statement from the ministry.

The province has since enhanced chain-up regulations for commercial vehicles to improve safety and reduce closures.

It's also looking to introduce stricter fines for non-compliance this winter. Currently, commercial operators who do not carry chains or use them during a mandatory chain-up face a fine of $121.

The province says, so far this winter, there appears to be improved compliance and a greater awareness of chain use.

Front row seat to crashes

Graham Zillwood isn't so sure.

He lives on Othello Road in Hope, directly across the river from where crashes often happen on a curve on the Coquhalla Highway.

Commercial vehicles are required to carry chains outside of Greater Victoria or Metro Vancouver, in this case the Coquihalla Highway, during the winter season. (Keely Brandt/Twitter)

He says there is at least one major crash at the site a year.

Zillwood says commercial vehicles are often pulled over to the side of the road near his home in a chain-up area during storms.

"It's not uncommon to have engines running all night, with drivers figuring out how to chain up," he said. "They don't always want to do it."

'At their own peril'

Cpl. Mike Halskov, who speaks for the RCMP's Traffic Services in B.C. says officers do patrol chain-up areas and hand out tickets for drivers pulling away without chains on.

He says drivers are not only risking a ticket, but their safety and the safety of others.

"It is like many offences, if they think they can get away with it, they will try, often at their own peril," he wrote in an email to CBC News.

Highway maintenance workers, like Navalander, encourage drivers and their companies to undertake more education around chain use.

The B.C. Trucking Association partnered with the province and other groups to launch an advocacy campaigned called Shift into Winter, which includes plans, quizzes and courses to help drivers stay safe in winter conditions.