–Insights West study findings
Summer is high season for vehicle breakdowns and a new survey— commissioned by BCAA and conducted by Insights West—shows that unsafe driver behaviours and ambivalence are putting roadside workers’ lives at risk.
“I have at least one close call a week, where I’m helping someone whose car has broken down and a driver speeds by inches from me,” says Al Lam, tow truck driver and roadside assistance service tech with BCAA. “I can actually feel the gust of air from the car on my back.”
BCAA commissioned the survey to improve driver awareness of how to safely drive past a roadside scene and the existing law. Over the past decade, more than 240 roadside workers have been struck by passing vehicles and 15 have died.
According to the survey, the problem is widespread. Almost half (48%) of those surveyed have witnessed drivers speed by a roadside scene and 46% have seen drivers zoom by too close with 43% noting abrupt lane changes. ‘Rubbernecking’ that slows and distracts drivers, is the most common behavior at 79%, while 11% have seen drivers nearly hit roadside workers or someone involved in the scene.
What’s the “Slow Down, Move Over” law?
In British Columbia, the law requires drivers to slow down and move over for any vehicle stopped alongside the road that has flashing red, blue or yellow lights to give roadside workers enough room to safely do their jobs. Workers using vehicles with either red, blue or yellow lights include tow truck operators, roadside assistance techs, road maintenance and utility crews, police, firefighters, emergency responders and more.
According to the law, motorists must slow their speed to 70 km/h when in an 80 km/h or over zone, and 40 km/h when in an under-80 km/h zone. If travelling on a multi-lane road, and it’s safe to do so, drivers must also move into the other lane going in the same direction to drive past any stopped vehicle with flashing lights. Failure to do so, can result in a $173 fine and three demerit points.
BCAA’s survey shows that, while the majority of drivers (84%) claim to be aware of the “Slow Down, Move Over” law, when put to the test, they came up short on what the law entails. Almost half (43%) don’t know that they need to change lanes, 59% are unaware of which coloured flashing lights are indicators to follow the law and over 80% incorrectly identified the speed reduction required by the law.
In terms of why drivers are so careless when passing roadside scenes, 78% chalked it up to rushing and distracted driving, while 77% believe that drivers know there is a law, but don’t know what to do. A disturbing 64% believe drivers know the law, but choose to ignore it.
“I understand people are in a hurry,” says Lam. “But roadside workers carefully follow safety guidelines and we need drivers to do their part. When they don’t, they put us, the people we’re helping and themselves at serious risk.”
In the meantime, many roadside worker organizations, including BCAA, use a fleet blocker, an additional vehicle positioned nearby the roadside incident to warn other drivers of roadside work ahead and create a safe zone between the roadside scene and passing cars to add a layer of protection for employees.
“Ultimately, it’s about driver education and empathy,” Lam says. “All we ask is if you see something on the road that might slow you down, understand that’s probably someone like me, doing my job at roadside; someone who just wants to get home to his family safe.”
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