Bitter Cold


Robert Wilson, KW Record

This day may well break a few records for number of accidents in Waterloo Region, which I thought was caught a little flat-footed by the first major snowfall of the season. The day started with gusty winds and wet snow, and stayed that way through the morning and into the afternoon. As the sun set, however, the temperatures dropped and the wet roads started to freeze. We did not see a single salt-truck until well after the sun set. Conditions on those roads as the afternoon rush-hour drove on became very bad indeed.

Returning from the University of Waterloo, we found ourselves behind a line of cars that were unable to make the hill up Westmount Road just north of Erb Street. The sound of squealing wheels was everywhere. To try and make some forward progress, as well as to avoid an accident from one of the backsliding cars running into us, we turned into an insurance company's parking lot, went onto a sidestreet and detoured to Fischer-Hallman, an arterial road running along the west side of Kitchener-Waterloo.

Here, heading southbound, we make better time, although our experience has made us sensible enough to drive at 20-30 kph along with the rest of the traffic. However, when we come onto a bridge over a set of railroad tracks, and see the traffic ahead of us slowing, my father applies his brakes, and the car refuses to stop. We enter a skid, with my father madly doing the things you're supposed to do, but our car swings 90 degrees counter-clockwise, and bumps up against the median, finally coming to a stop.

Behind us, a horn sounds, and we turn to see another car entering a skid. She hits the median, clips the extreme front-left corner of our bumper and passes us. Now on the northbound lane, she's right in front of us when she has a head-on collision with a third car.

Once I was sure that we were stopped, I got out of the car and checked to see if everybody was all right. Everybody was staggering out of their vehicles a little shell-shocked. Save for a little girl who was really upset and had a minor cut on her cheek, we were okay. It is a testament to just how quickly this accident happened and how shocked we all were that I ended up mixing up which car was which. I was as surprised as the policeman later to learn that the poor woman shivering beside her car at the right-most northbound lane of the road was actually the southbound car who had entered her own skid behind us and clipped us crossing the median.

Witnesses stopped and offered assistance. The police were called. The little girl was taken home by a kind stranger while we waited for the police to come. Atop a bridge in the midst of gusting winds and dropping temperatures, it was very uncomfortable (and probably dangerous), but the poor woman was not quite willing to get back into any car at this point. Her father arrived shortly and gave her a warmer coat.

The police arrived about an hour later. During the waiting period, no less than two tow-trucks passed us hauling damaged vehicles. This was followed by another damaged vehicle heading northbound on its own power, and the first two salt trucks we saw that day. When the police arrived, one officer got out of his car and slid along the surface of the road up to our window. Of course no charges were laid.

We all exchanged some thoughts as to how lucky we actually were. If the median hadn't stopped my father's car, we would have been in the northbound lane. If the woman hadn't inadvertantly swerved, she would have broadsided us. None of us feels lucky given that there are two badly damaged cars and several shocked people in their wake, including one young child, but the fact is we were lucky because, other than the small cut, there were no major injuries to report. Had the accident happened at a higher speed, we wouldn't be able to say that.

The northbound driver, as he recovered from his shock, cursed his luck. He wasn't even supposed to be on Fischer-Hallman; he'd intended to go up Westmount Road. That was ironic; so had we, and we weren't supposed to be on Fischer-Hallman either.

The police took our insurance information and had us fill out our names, addresses and dates of birth and, about an hour-and-a-half after the accident, my parents and I were allowed to leave. We were already exceptionally cold, still quite shaken and in need of washrooms, so we drove to Swiss Chalet and had a very hot dinner and a welcome chance to unwind..

It's worth noting that, not two hundred metres south of the accident side, we passed another accident already under investigation. The police were very busy today, and I'm still wondering where the salt trucks were.

It's now early the next morning, and my father writes to say that, between 5:30 am to 2 pm, Waterloo regional police reported nearly 100 crashes. Note the times. We crashed around 5:30 pm. I wouldn't be surprised if the total crash count of the day in Waterloo Region tops 200.

Also ironic about yesterday was that my parents were worried about Erin being on the road for her trip to Montreal. Well, she's fine, although she only managed to get to the bookstore about fifteen minutes before the reading began. The turnout was good, as around ten people braved the blustery conditions to attend. With luck, for all of us, conditions will have improved this morning.

Follow up: Toronto Star - First Blast of Winter Wreaks Havoc

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