By Kim Hutchison
With more than 2.9 million registered motor vehicles on Alberta’s roads, highway emergencies are, unfortunately, inevitable. Law enforcement officers, Emergency Medical Services (EMS), firefighters, tow trucks and other emergency roadside assistance vehicle operators have difficult jobs requiring them to come to the scene at a moments notice.
Whether someone is getting pulled over for exceeding the speed limit or getting pulled from a vehicle and taken to the hospital, we shouldn’t be putting the lives of people who save ours in danger.
In 2005 the Alberta Traffic Safety Act titled “Give us room to work” was amended in an effort to reduce the risk of injury and death to emergency services personnel when responding to or working at emergency scenes. Ponoka RCMP constable Jerry Court provided multiple scenarios to best explain how it works.
When you see lights flashing on the roadside ahead on a four-lane highway, make sure it’s safe to change lanes and do so. Once you are in a different lane, simply maintain the speed limit – slowing down is not required. If you’re on a two-lane highway, the same reasoning applies. Switch lanes if you are able to safely do so and maintain the speed limit. If you find yourself unable to switch lanes, slow down to 60 km/h as you pass the scene. Once you have passed it, return to the speed limit as quickly as possible. Lastly, if you’re driving along a two-lane highway and one lane is entirely shut down because of the situation at hand, switch lanes (as there is no other choice) and slow to 60 km/h as you pass the scene. Return to highway speed as soon as possible assuming traffic flow permits.
It seems simple but it seems the majority of motorists aren’t doing this.
“What I see happening is if one vehicle moves to the opposite lane, others tend to follow. But if the first vehicle can’t switch lanes and goes by the scene and doesn’t slow down, others tend to zoom by too. Some days are better than others, but probably only half the people on the road are obeying this law,” said Court. “If you see lights flashing ahead and you have to slow down to 60 km/h, tap your break lights to give the person behind you a warning,” he said noting that people who suddenly decrease their speed can cause accidents.
EMTA shift supervisor, Greg Wianco, agrees.
“If someone suddenly slows to 60 km/h, there’s a chance that the driver behind him going 120 km/h will slam into him causing a secondary accident,” he said.
To prevent this from happening, both Wianco and constable Court advise people not to rubberneck – or, linger out of curiosity as they drive by the scene.
“People hog the centre line trying to see what’s happening,” said Wianco. It’s smart to keep alert and aware of the situation at hand but not paying attention to the road jeopardizes our safety and theirs.”
Safety, especially during the winter months when visibility and driving conditions worsen, is key.
“We’re standing on the shoulder of the road and everyday people fly by us going 130 kilometres per hour- it’s terrifying,” said Brian Herbert, an employee of First Call Towing who has been operating a tow truck for roughly 15 years.
“There are so many times when I have almost been hit,” he said. “People in all vehicles including transfer trucks need to slow down when they pass us for our safety and their own. It’s the law, but people aren’t following it.”