Following a string of accidents involving recovery vehicles, tow operators in Alberta renew calls for blue emergency lights.
January was a month of dread for tow truck drivers in Alberta. News headlines reported one collision of a motorist with a tow truck after another. In mid-January, a semi-truck driver died after colliding with a stopped tow truck on the side of a highway near Red Deer. For many tow operators, this was the last straw.
The accident triggered conversations about the safety of tow truck drivers, which resulted in resumed efforts to allow blue lights in addition to amber lights. To increase pressure on the provincial government to pass new legislation, towers launched an online petition on change.org, and as of publishing time, it had been signed by more than 11,700 people.
One supporter of blue lights on emergency vehicles is Cliffs Towing, as their truck was one of those struck in mid-January. The company’s fleet manager, Fernando LeBlanc, advocates for unifying the rules in all provinces, “It should be the same across Canada, some companies like ours travel and work in other provinces.”
While neighbouring British Columbia is advocating for the right to have red lights, after not getting the approval for blue lights from the provincial government, Alberta’s other neighbour— Saskatchewan—is the only province that allows emergency vehicles to be equipped with blue lights. The law was changed there after the death of a tow operator, Courtney Schaefer, in 2017. The main argument for adopting the new safety amendment was to increase visibility of tow trucks from farther distances and to alert and encourage approaching motorists to slow down.
Don Getschel, president of Oil Country Towing, also sees blue lights as a step towards reducing accidents in inclement weather conditions. However, he reminded that changing the colour of lights alone will not prevent tow operators from being hurt.
“We need to have better systems and policies as business owners to keep our staff safe by using better judgment and providing advanced warning,” said Don. “If we cannot do the call safely, we should not be doing the call. If the weather or heavy traffic is a factor, we should wait until the weather clears and the traffic lightens.”
When Don’s driver was severely injured after being struck on a highway in 2013, he decided to implement additional safety measures to protect his staff. To enhance visibility of their tow trucks he added the traffic control unit and equipped his trucks with advanced safety features like fold-down arrow-boards, slow/stop signs, delineators, and traffic cones. He has also made sure his operators use a “blocker truck” as mandatory assistance on the highway and that they know how to perform temporary traffic management and flagging.
To ensure that at the end of a day everyone makes it home safely, it requires a joint effort from business owners and their tow operators, as well as from the motoring public. “Although blue lights are more visible and will provide some advanced warning, things will not change until everyone changes,” said Don. To reduce the risk of collisions, motorists have to obey the law and make sure they slow down and move over to give towers space to perform their jobs.