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Stats show December chaotic

Highest collision figures in 'at least 15 years'

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The aftermath of a collision on Ellice Avenue after vehicles slid on the icy, rut-filled road Monday evening. Fender-benders have been commonplace.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

The aftermath of a collision on Ellice Avenue after vehicles slid on the icy, rut-filled road Monday evening. Fender-benders have been commonplace. Photo Store

Feel like you're in a rut?

Welcome to Winnipeg.

Road conditions in the month of December -- like the weather itself -- were so abominable, Manitoba Public Insurance is reporting the highest number of collisions in "at least 15 years" -- up to 20,000 this past month compared with some 16,000 in December of 2012.

"You can see this December has not been kind to either motorists or MPI," said MPI spokesman Brian Smiley.

Everybody can see, all right. They're seeing car parts littered along the road driving to work, the remnants of countless fender-benders. They're seeing cars sliding like giant curling rocks while trying to navigate streets with the traction of skating rinks. Most of all, they were seeing ruts of snow and ice in the roads that would make a pioneer settler blush.

Even Mayor Sam Katz admitted Monday he's not pleased with how private contractors have plowed some city streets.

"There's slippery spots out there," Katz said. "There's definitely a problem with ruts -- there's no question about that."

Further, Katz said contractors won't be paid if officials in public works are not satisfied with the quality of the work.

"Some of the areas where they've gone out and scraped, they haven't done the job 100 per cent," Katz said. "They have to go back and redo it and do it properly or they don't get paid."

Veteran autobody repair shop operators aren't the least bit surprised.

"You've got road conditions that are definitely different than in the past," said Kelly Kostynyk, owner of Gateway Auto Body. "One, they haven't cleared as effectively. And I haven't seen as much sand being poured."

Heavy snowfalls became packed under traffic, creating the ruts. Kostynyk said trying to eliminate the ruts can backfire if plows don't scrape all the way to pavement.

"Unfortunately, you can't get it down enough and you're glazing it," he said. "It's like a skating rink."

Perry Vernaus of Vernaus Auto Body, said many of his customers -- most autobody shops are booking two months ahead now -- are "complaining about the ruts and icy intersections."

"You're not really in control of your vehicle," Vernaus added, noting snow piles at some intersections are also creating blind spots for motorists.

Smiley agreed a confluence of weather events has led to the treacherous road conditions -- including a couple of warm spells in December that only served to "polish" snow-packed surfaces.

There are other factors. Newer, lighter cars are tossed around more in ruts. Also, when temperatures dip to -30 C, the plastic bumpers on cars practically explode into pieces on impact, which will increase the number of collision reports to MPI. "The majority (of the 20,000 reports) would be fender-benders," Smiley said.

But motorists can't just blame their woes -- or the record collision numbers -- on ruts or weather.

Vernaus said accidents also result from drivers not clearing their tail lights properly or venturing into the streets before their windows have properly defrosted. "We've had that happen quite a few times, too," he said.

"We tell this to everyone," Smiley added. "Drivers must adjust to the road conditions. Whether that road has loose gravel or deep ruts or heavy snow, drivers need to adjust. A motorist is strongly advised to drive according to the road conditions."

Kostynyk agreed if Winnipeggers can dress for the weather, they can drive for it, too. That means proper snow tires and being fully cognizant of road conditions. In other words, slow down.

"We've chosen Manitoba as our home," he said. "We have to suck it up sometimes. It's been a challenge, no question about it. The impacts are severe. So drive within your means. Patience is a good virtue in this province at this time of year. And common sense."

Kostynyk said the spike in collisions does underline the age-old debate of pressure on city councils to reduce snow-clearing budgets -- a topic Winnipeg city council is currently reviewing -- and the possible ramifications.

For example, if the city's snow-clearing budget drops, that could just lead to more collisions that are passed on to MPI. Starve Peter, pay Paul.

"But that's a six-year conversation," Kostynyk chuckled.

randy.turner@freepress.mb.ca -- with files from Aldo Santin

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 7, 2014 A3

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Updated on Tuesday, January 7, 2014 at 7:16 AM CST: Replaces photo

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