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Workers on the highway lobby for provincial safety regulations

Line locators, surveyors, sign maintenance staff and roadside assistance workers are lobbying for a new law requiring motorists to slow down during roadside work.

Line locators, surveyors, sign maintenance staff and roadside assistance workers are lobbying for a new law requiring motorists to slow down during roadside work.

Shawn Gerow of Goodfare said he has joined a group of a dozen industry workers in advocating for highway safety regulations, over the past two years.

“It’s dangerous - I’ve been doing (sign repair) for 11 years and it’s gotten worse, because people don’t move over, don’t slow down, and don’t give us room,” he said.

“Somebody is going to get hit.”

He said he has personally had some close calls.

“I’ve been blown over by trucks while carrying signs - they’ll knock you off your feet,” he said.

“It’s scary working on the side of the road.”

Gerow said the impetus for the movement was the Tow Truck Safety Act, introduced by former Grande Prairie-Wapiti MLA Wayne Drysdale in 2017 but never passed.

While tow trucks can have amber lights under the Traffic Safety Act Vehicle Equipment Regulation, Drysdale’s bill would have allowed tow trucks to also carry blue or white lights.

Gerow said he supports blue lights for tow trucks but feels other roadside workers also need access to the lights, as well as the benefit of lowered speed limits. Currently, he said they have neither protection.

“If you see a flashing blue light, you know somebody is out of their vehicle and to go 60 kilometres,” he said.

“Everybody and their dog has an amber light, you can buy one and stick on your car, so nobody knows who’s doing what when an amber light’s on.”

He said he’s seen scientific studies showing blue lights make an impact in improving traffic safety and are the most effective lights.

Brooklyn Elhard, Alberta Transportation press secretary, declined to say if the department is preparing to bring the Tow Truck Safety Act back to the legislature.

“We are actively looking at ways to improve safety on Alberta’s roads and will consider a variety of options as we monitor research and best practices from other jurisdictions,” said transportation minister Ric McIver.

McIver said that the department is concerned with the safety of emergency responders and other roadside workers, in addition to tow truck drivers.

Gerow said he’s spoken about the issue with the Rural Municipalities of Alberta association and with Alberta Transportation workers a year ago.

“They seemed alarmed to know we weren’t in the slow-down legislation,” he said.

Last fall he spoke to current MLA Travis Toews, and Gerow said Toews gave him some contacts.

In June 2019, County of Grande Prairie council also sent a letter to McIver on the issue.

In the letter, council supported changing the Tow Truck Safety Act to support blue lights for field staff and reduce speeds where highway maintenance is occurring.

Gerow added he has also written to McIver and to Brian Mason, the transportation minister from 2015 to 2019.

Gerow said he was referred to regulations requiring motorists to slow down in construction zones.

However, he said industry workers actually count as “very short duration” workers, not construction workers, under the Alberta government’s “traffic accommodation in work zones” manual.

The manual provides for temporary speed reduction for “long duration projects” and for local authorities to be made aware of reductions, but not for “very short duration” projects.

In the meantime, Gerow said he is interested in continuing to raise awareness of this issue.

Brad Quarin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News