Tow truck drivers and paramedics are joining the Alberta Opposition NDP to say the UCP’s new traffic safety rules will increase the risk of dangerous collisions.
When the UCP government first introduced changes to the law in 2022, it said they would require drivers in all lanes of traffic travelling on the same side of the road as an emergency or roadside worker vehicle flashing its lights slow down to 60 km/h or the speed limit — whatever is lower.
However, in early August, Transportation Minister Devin Dreeshen announced a partial walk back. The requirement to slow down would only apply to drivers in the lane closest to worker vehicles stopped at the side of the road with their lights flashing.
At an NDP news conference Friday, the same day the new measures come into effect, Don Getschel, president of the Towing and Recovery Association of Alberta, said the changes announced in August create unnecessary risk for the public and roadside workers. He said it could be difficult for drivers to safely move into a far lane with faster traffic.
“They’re going to get rear ended or they’re going to have to do an emergency stop and then it’s just going to be a snowball effect. It’s going to start a traffic snake, and then that traffic snake will move down even further back and that can create a another secondary incident,” Getschel said.
He said those kinds of collisions on the busy, sometimes five-lane-wide stretches of the Queen Elizabeth II Highway south of Edmonton are common.
“We’ve had to respond and send more equipment out for secondary incidents more times than I can count,” said Getschel.
Mike Parker, the president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA), the union representing paramedics, also said the uniform speed limit is the safest and simplest way to go.
“It’s so confusing this government decides to unilaterally change the rules to allow people to drive 110 km/h, right next to a vehicle going 60 km/h, which is right next to our emergency and road crews doing their jobs,” said Parker.
The Alberta Fire Chiefs Association (AFCA) and the Alberta Motor Association have also recently expressed concern and disappointment the new rule won’t apply to all lanes.
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On Aug. 8, Dreeshen said the aim was to keep the rules simple no matter how many lanes of traffic there are, arguing it’s too dangerous and confusing to require all lanes to slow to 60 km/hour.
“Whenever you’re decreasing or increasing, that’s always the most dangerous situation on a road, so a free-flowing continuous flow of traffic at the same speed is the safest,” he said, emphasizing that no matter the type of roadside worker, the same rules would now apply.
“Whether it’s blue lights, red lights, yellow lights, amber lights, if you see workers working on the side of the road, slow down to 60, or move over,” Dreeshen said.
Previously, only tow-truck drivers and first responders were protected under the Traffic Safety Act.
NDP transportation critic Lorne Dach said the government needs to put the roll-out on pause.
“Revert back to where we had been with the passage of Bill 5 and use common sense to keep the uniform speed in all lanes that are passing a roadside worker,” said Dach.
In an emailed statement to Postmedia Friday, Dreeshen’s press secretary Jesse Furber said if drivers in the lane closest to stopped vehicles can’t move over, they must slow down.
“Drivers are not expected to move over if it is not safe to do so,” Furber said, reiterating that maintaining consistent speeds in the outside lanes is safer.
“Some Alberta roads have up to five lanes, and having five lanes slow down to 60km/h will create a sudden bottleneck increasing the risk of sudden or improper braking leading to a higher risk of rear-end collisions on our highways,” Furber said, adding that drivers in the far lane often cannot see if a vehicle is stopped on the shoulder multiple lanes across from them, which becomes even more unsafe in winter conditions.
The government started a $1.5-million media public education campaign in the first week of August, after putting up highway signs in the spring.