Local tow truck drivers welcome new law

April 10, 2017 8:09 am
Kevin Weedmark

Saskatchewan tow truck drivers can now add blue flashing lights to their amber lights for greater visibility in a safety measure approved on Thursday.

The Saskatchewan government introduced and passed the legislation Thursday.

The legislation was introduced and passed in one day, which is a rare occurrence and requires the unanimous support of the Legislature.

The move comes after tow truck operator Courtney Schaefer was killed March 7, 2017, in a collision along the roadside near the Gerald area during blizzard conditions.

Tow truck drivers lobbied for the change.

Todd Davidson of Davidson Truck and Tractor in Moosomin said he is happy with the change.

“I think it will make a difference in keeping us safer, and I think it will bring some awareness to the issue of safety,” he said.

“People should notice that there’s something different going on out there. It should catch some attention, so I definitely think it’s a step in the right direction.”

What more does he think could be done?

“I think we could definitely enforce it better,” he said. “I know the police are limited in what they can do but some more awareness by hitting people in the pocketbook with a stiff fine, or some more campaigns advertising that you need to slow down when you’re approaching danger on the highway would help, reminding people it’s safer for you and safer for everyone when you slow down.”

Davidson believes the tragic death of Courtney Schaefer has brought more attention to the issue of tow truck and emergency responder safety.

“It’s unfortunate, but because of Courtney’s death, it really hit home for people how serious it is, and what can happen out there if you’re not careful,” he said. “We were all talking about it before but this made it more of a realization.”

He said he sees a wide range of responses from drivers around scenes where he has been working at the side of the highway.

“Some are really good and some are really disappointing,” he said. “It really makes you sink in your shoes when you have someone go by you with zero respect for what you’re doing out there.

“I don’t understand why they would do that but I guess they’ve never been in my situation where I’ve been on the road and had a near miss. Even if a piece of ice falls off that truck that’s going by and it hits you, that could cause some serious damage, let alone being hit by a vehicle.”

Davidson said he plans to add blue lights to his tow trucks as soon as possible.

“This is exactly what we were looking for,” Willie Cowan of OK Tire in Whitewood said Thursday. “The towing association has been working with the government on it, but I didn’t think it would be coming this quick.”

Cowan said he’s hoping the change will make a difference for the safety of tow truck drivers on the road.

“It’s going to definitely help,” he said. “We’re going to need the public’s co-operation. They have to respect it. We could have fireworks shooting off the trucks but if people don’t acknowledge and respect it, it’s not going to work.”

He said most drivers are careful and respectful, “but it only takes one to hit you, and the highway is a busy place.”

Is there anything else the government can do to improve safety for tow truck drivers?

“The RCMP can clamp down,” says Cowan. “One ticket gets a lot of attention.”

“We’ve heard from tow truck operators about how they risk their lives daily while they assist motorists in distress,” Minister Responsible for Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI) Joe Hargrave said. “Adding blue lights will increase visibility, heighten awareness as well as increase safety for all operators and the public.”

Saskatchewan is the first jurisdiction in Canada to introduce a two-colour lighting combination for tow trucks—other jurisdictions use amber lights only. The addition of blue lights isn’t mandatory—Saskatchewan operators can still opt for amber only. Tow truck operators can also strategically install additional lights to the tow truck and trailer providing there is at least one amber light on top of the truck that can be seen 360 degrees around the unit.

“This is a move in the right direction and a first for the safety of the tow truck operators in Canada,” Roadside Responders Association of Saskatchewan Vice President Harv Britton said.

“Every day, our operators experience near misses. We’ve been clipped by vehicle mirrors as they whiz past us. Pylons outlining our safety zone at roadside have been run over. People just don’t seem to see the flashing amber lights; adding the blue will make us more noticeable and help keep operators safe.”

Tow truck operators will be able to install blue lights once the bill receives royal assent and is proclaimed, which will happen at the end of May. SGI will be undertaking public awareness efforts to educate the public about blue lights on tow trucks.

“We also remind motorists it’s the law to slow to 60 kilometres per hour when passing tow trucks and any emergency vehicles on the highway when flashing lights are engaged—those responders have families they want to get home safely to as well,” Hargrave said.

“If you are going even 10 km/hr over that limit, it will cost you $210. So obey the law, and slow down. It could save a life.”