Nov. 26, 2014
With last week’s sudden and unexpected snowfall that rendered driving conditions hazardous in much of Ontario, drivers had to suddenly adapt to “drive according to conditions” as this aspect of winter came early.
Venturing out on the provincial highways during the winter months during these stormy periods is always undertaken with some degree of trepidation as we determine to which specific conditions we need to adapt our driving style, the speeds that are safe for driving or whether we would be better off staying home and making the trip another day. Citizens refer more and more often to weather reports and forecasts on various online sites as they make their decisions about when, or even if, to venture on a highway trip on a stormy day.
As a further aid to this kind of critical decision making, two southern Ontario municipalities are this year making available the progress of their snowplows and salt trucks in real time on their websites. At least one of these, the City of Vaughan north of Toronto also has an app that a resident can download for easy access or they can seek the status of the municipal snowplows and salt trucks by typing in www.whereismysnowplow.com.
The website shows the streets/roads where the snowplow is at that moment (salt trucks too) as well as showing when the last pass along that same stretch of roadway was completed.
That’s called accountability and for citizens contemplating a trip within that municipality on a stormy day, it makes the planning of the trip immeasurably simpler and potentially safer.
If a large municipality with lots of streets and roads can make this valuable information available to its citizens in the interest, at the very least, of public safety so should the Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO) feel obliged to give Ontarians access to the whereabouts of snowplows and salt trucks, online, on a region by region or highway by highway basis or both so that anyone in Ontario planning a driving trip on a provincial highway can see for themselves how recently a plow or salt truck has been on, or will be on, the highway where they will be travelling.
All of the vehicles under contract to the MTO are already equipped with Global Positioning Systems (GPS) transmitting devices so the staff at the various patrol headquarters can see how the rolling stock is progressing. It would be a simple thing to make this same information completely transparent and able to be called up in real time either within regions or on a highway by highway basis.
This would be a very useful tool and would enable Ontarians to make travel judgments on an enormously more informed basis.
In the not-too-distant past, Ontarians had access to a series of toll-free numbers, district by district, which could be called for information about the state of winter highways. At one time, one would speak to a knowledgeable person who would advise on the road conditions on particular highways. Later on, this personal service was replaced by a recorded message.
But an online, real time map that shows a snowplow’s and sand truck’s progress on a given highway, together with the most recent snowplowing activity would be far more useful than either of these old options.
It would also be an enormous good faith gesture to the citizens of Northern Ontario for whom long stretches of winter driving are often not an option.