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Op-Ed Column by Grant Stockwell: More lights, safety needed for BC's emergency roadside workers

Every day, cars speed past emergency roadside workers who are helping stranded motorists, putting everyone at risk. To help drivers know they are coming up to a scene that requires them to slow down and move over, BCAA is calling on the BC Government to allow the use of lights that will be more visible and grab attention. Last May, BCAA’s Senior Vice President Mobility, Grant Stockwell, wrote this column for The Province newspaper about this important issue.

BC’s emergency roadside workers face the daily dangers of working on the sides of our roads and highways to help stranded motorists while traffic continues to speed by.

Our roads are busier than ever and drivers across BC regularly fail to follow the Slow Down, Move Over law to give these professionals the space they need to do their jobs. As a result, it represents a safety risk of injury, or worse, for roadside workers and for the motorists they help.

Two years ago tomorrow, Saskatchewan became the first province to allow roadside assistance workers to use flashing blue lights in conjunction with amber ones to improve their visibility on the side of the road.

Now, to keep BC workers and all motorists safer, BCAA is calling on the BC Government to allow emergency roadside assistance vehicles to use blue and white flashing lights alongside their amber lights, which research proves is more effective at grabbing a driver’s attention.

BCAA is a leader in roadside safety initiatives in the towing and recovery industry. With 123 roadside workers in our own service vehicles and tow trucks and another 130 towing partners with approximately 700 technicians contracted across the province, we’re called to help more 400,000 motorists every year.

The public adherence to Slow Down, Move Over is so important to BCAA for our drivers, our contracted towing partners and our members.

BCAA actively works with partners to develop roadside safety education tools and public awareness campaigns. We have invested in our own specialized ‘blocking’ vehicles and safety professionals to protect our workers and members at the side of the road, but they can’t be everywhere for all drivers across the province.

All of these efforts help but there is more that can be done, such as blue and white lights to help cause motorist adherence to the existing law of Slow Down, Move Over.

In BC, 12 workers have been killed and another 230 hit or injured between 2008-2018. Since 2014, there have been five high-profile incidents in our province because of motorists failing to slow down, including the death of Wayne Kernachen — owner of Keegz Country Towing in Castlegar — who was killed attending a roadside incident on the highway.

Clearly, more is needed to improve the safety of emergency roadside workers and the motorists they rescue.

BC’s actions to date have not done enough and other provinces are ahead of us in taking action.

Two years ago, the Saskatchewan government moved forward with The Traffic Safety (Tow Trucks) Amendment Act, 2017, which authorized the use of flashing blue and white lights in concurrence with amber lights on tow trucks providing roadside assistance. Unfortunately, it took the death of a tow-truck driver to prompt that legislative change.

Saskatchewan has recently reported that roadside safety has improved within the province because of introducing blue and white lights.

We must follow the lead of Saskatchewan and do more to ensure the safety of all British Columbians on our roadways. BCAA is advocating for adding blue and white lights to improve roadside safety, but at the heart of our request is our hope to give emergency roadside assistance workers and their families peace of mind while these professionals perform their duties.

Everyone deserves the comfort of knowing that they can return to their loved ones safely at the end of their shifts.