Summer is high season for vehicle breakdowns, and a new BCAA survey shows that unsafe driver behaviours and ambivalence are putting the lives of roadside workers 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 just inches from me,” said Al Lam, tow truck driver and roadside assistance service tech with BCAA, in a press release. “I can actually feel the gust of air from the car on my back.”
BCAA commissioned the survey to improve driver awareness of the existing Slow Down, Move Over law and to help remind drivers how to safely drive past a roadside scene. Over the past decade, more than 240 roadside workers have been struck by passing vehicles and 15 have died (2004-2013).
According to the survey, which was commissioned by BCAA and conducted by Insights West, the problem is widespread. Almost half (48 per cent) of those surveyed have witnessed drivers speed by a roadside scene and 46 per cent have seen drivers zoom by too close to the scene, with 43 per cent noting abrupt lane changes. ‘Rubbernecking’, which slows and distracts drivers, is the most common behavior at 79 per cent, while 11 per cent 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 80km/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 per cent) 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. Over 80 per cent incorrectly identified the speed reduction required by the law, 59 per cent are unaware of which coloured flashing lights are indicators to follow the law and almost half (43 per cent) don’t know that they need to change lanes.
In terms of why drivers are so careless when passing roadside scenes, 78 per cent chalked it up to rushing and distracted driving, while 77 per cent believe that drivers know there is a law, but don’t know what to do. A disturbing 64 per cent believe drivers know the law, but choose to ignore it.
“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 it’s probably someone like me, doing my job at roadside; someone who just wants to get home safely to his family.”