By Jordan W. Charness

Every year about this time I start to get depressed. I’m one of those people who really hates Winter. In fact, the older I get, the more I hate it. I don’t like the cold. I don’t like the snow. I don’t like the wind. And I don’t like the dark. No. I sometimes wonder if I have Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.), a real affliction caused by the lack of sunshine in the winter.

Though I am pretty sad this time of year, it is really more of an annoyance than anything major. Starting in the middle of December the Sun goes down at about five in the afternoon and we have way fewer hours of sunshine during our waking day. Studies have shown that this also affects the way that we drive.

To make life worse it all comes at once. The cold, the snow, the icy roads, the darkness, the holiday season, the post holiday season, the cranky children stuffed into snow suits and cold water from melting snow puddling in their shoes and boots. With all of these distractions, it’s amazing that there are not more accidents on the roads in December and January.

Winter has its own set of rules when it comes to driving. Some people tend to forget that their cars behave differently in the Winter than they do in the summer. In the first place a cold engine has more of a tendency to stall when you subject it to rapid acceleration. So those if you who are in the habit of trying to make that quick left turn across oncoming traffic have a much better chance of becoming an accident statistic in the Winter.

Even when your car is warm and running just fine, the rubber on your tires is still in contact with cold pavement or ice and snow. Although you are not legally required to use them, snow tires do provide better traction than all season tires in winter conditions. It is nonetheless illegal to run with summer tires or any tires that have insufficient tread to grip the road. A tread that might be fine for summer may be ineffective and illegal in the Winter.

For those of us who have four-wheel drive vehicles, we are lucky to have increased traction on slippery roads. The increase of traction however only applies going forward. While you may be able to accelerate quicker with this type of vehicle, stopping the car is still subject to the same laws of physics as a two-wheel drive car.

In other words, while you may be able to go fast you won’t be able to stop any better than anyone else. In addition, the high centre of gravity on some of these vehicles may cause them to spin out and roll over a touch more easily than a car built lower to the ground. If you ignore these rules of physics you will be a danger to yourself and be breaking the law as well.

And which laws you might ask? Aside from the obvious ones that may be broken by your sliding through a stop sign or red light you may also be charged with dangerous driving. This catch-all infraction makes it illegal to drive in any manner that might put any member of the public in danger.

The jurisprudence has been constant in that you do not actually have to endanger anyone but simply to drive in a manner that could possibly be dangerous to yourself or others. You can do so driving under the speed limit and stopping at every stop sign. In this case, how you drive is more important than how fast you are driving and whether or not you managed to stop in the right places.

Another thing that you might remember is that speed limits are only indicative of the maximum speed that you are allowed to travel when weather conditions are ideal. Anytime the weather and road conditions have deteriorated you must reduce your speed and manner of driving to one that is consistent with the actual road conditions. Do anything else that could even be conceived as causing a danger and you’ll get hit with a ticket.

I began today’s column by ranting about the long night-time hours. Just so I don’t leave even the most obvious practices to chance, the Law requires that you turn on your lights (including dashboard lights) when ever it is dark or atmospheric conditions require you to do so.

In addition, it is illegal to install white lights in the rear of your car except for those that are exclusively used when backing up.

One last point to remember is that you are legally required to dim your high beams and use your low beams when there is sufficient ambient light to see by. This includes anytime you drive in the city where there are sufficient streetlights for you to be able to see where you are going. If you’re on a highway where there are no streetlights you must dim your high beams and use the low ones whenever you come within 150 metres of a car either ahead of you or facing you in the other direction.

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