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Readers agree on Malahat problems: Speed is biggest threat

By Steve Wallace, Times Colonist, January 13, 2012

Here are readers’ responses to the “Malahat, it’s just a road” column (Dec. 16).

The most telling comments from readers concern vehicle speed, especially in poor weather conditions. Gord, from Mill Bay, states that hydroplaning is a major cause of loss of vehicle control on the Malahat.

When the vehicle tires lose contact with the road surface and ride on a thin film of water, it often spells disaster and precedes the dreaded head-on collision.

He agrees that drivers are largely to blame for most crashes, but disagrees with my assertion that the road is well-engineered. He has a point.

Drainage in certain areas is very poor and water runs across the roadway like a shallow river when it rains heavily. Gord also suggests installing a concrete barrier between north and south lanes in confined and restricted spaces on the Malahat. This would reduce the chance of a head-on crash when the road is narrow with no paved shoulders to serve as escape areas.

John Laidlaw had several great tips for driving the Malahat. He only uses M+S-rated tires in winter. All-season tires do not perform well in snow and slush. He tries to drive the route without braking and maintains that with the right automatic-transmission vehicle, it is possible to use lower gears to descend the most dramatic of hills without exceeding the speed limit. He signals his intention to merge at least 100 metres in advance of any lateral move. He has been driving the Malahat fairly regularly for 40 years.

After a very heavy snowfall, I once counted 83 vehicles in the ditch on a morning drive from Nanaimo to Victoria. Veteran Malahat drivers, such as reader Kathryn, recommend taking the Mill Bay ferry to avoid the congestion, especially in bad weather and when the road remains closed because of a crash.

Penelope Law is upset with drivers who tailgate. She also maintains that the out-of-province drivers are the only ones who seem to be adhering to the posted speed limit. That begs the question, does familiarity breed contempt?

Phil Harrison noticed a significant reduction in speed during the spring “traffic blitz.”

He maintains this enforcement must be a year-round activity, if traffic deaths and injuries are to be prevented. He says education and enforcement go hand-in-hand. He also believes the latest trafficsafety technology should be used, including photo radar.

Many readers who expressed opinions compared the Malahat to the Pat Bay Highway, which is a much straighter road without the great elevation changes. They mentioned that street lighting is much better on the way to the major ferry terminal than on the Malahat. Curiously, the fatal crashes on both of these highways are about equal over the last 10 years.

All of the drivers who gave me feedback from the original Malahat column were in agreement on at least one item: Speeders are the biggest threat to safety. People are simply driving too fast for conditions. The safest way to travel the Malahat is to make as few lane changes and passes as possible.

There is no time savings in attempting to pass other vehicles, only to meet those same vehicles in the Colwood Crawl or at the succession of traffic lights before and after Mill Bay.

Perhaps the most scathing criticism was reserved for those few professional drivers of big rigs who refuse to pull over and allow stacked-up traffic behind them to pass. They all too often proceed to speed on the downhill sections in order to make up lost time.

Thanks for the feedback.

Steve Wallace is a member of the College of Teachers and the owner of Joan Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and the Interior of B.C.


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