Calgary drivers reminded to ‘slow down, move over’ for emergency responders

Click to play video: 'Emergency crews line Deerfoot Trail reminding motorists to slow down and move over'
Emergency crews line Deerfoot Trail reminding motorists to slow down and move over
WATCH: Calgary police are reminding drivers to pay attention around emergency vehicles. A number of first responders were out along a busy stretch of Deerfoot Trail Thursday with their lights flashing urging everyone to slow down. Gaby Rios reports. – Mar 10, 2023

Emergency responders will be parked on both sides of Deerfoot Trail near Glenmore Trail on Thursday evening to remind drivers to slow down and move over when emergency lights are on.

“At the end of the day, we’re out there providing a service for stranded motorists or police. We’re trying to clear a scene and have every operator and every member of the public safe while we’re doing so, get home at the end of the day,” Jeff Hribnak, operations manager with City Wide Towing, said Thursday.

When any emergency vehicle, tow truck or road service vehicle like a snowplow is stopped with its flashing lights activated, drivers are required by law to slow down to 60 km/h or the posted speed limit – whichever is slower – in the adjacent lane.

“It can be quite terrifying for an operator or any motorist that’s outside their vehicle changing a tire on their own with cars whipping by at 100 km/h, 110 km/h,” Hribnak said.

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Fines for passing an emergency vehicle that is stopped at the side of the road with its flashing lights on are doubled when speeding, ranging from $136 to $991 depending on the speed. Speeding at more than 50 km/h over the limit will result in a mandatory court appearance.

While some tow truck companies will have a second vehicle on the scene as an extra alert for drivers to slow down, the City Wide Towing manager said the training for his operators is focused on their safety.

“Never turn your back to live traffic. You’re always keeping an eye on what’s coming at you, whether you’re walking backwards to your truck to grab something, at least you have eye contact with the motorists coming at you.”

Firefighters are often the first responders at traffic accidents, putting them at risk while helping people in the accident.

Click to play video: 'Alberta snowplow drivers issue warning to motorists after several collisions'
Alberta snowplow drivers issue warning to motorists after several collisions

“One of the things that I was told when I came on to the fire department 21 years ago was that the most dangerous place I will be is at the side of Deerfoot or another high speed roadway,” Calgary Fire Department public information officer Carol Henke said. “And in my experience, that is completely true.

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“Yes, house fires are dangerous, but this is incredibly dangerous because of the speeds.”

Henke mentioned a recent video on social media of a driver passing a fire truck at speed on the right hand side, an incident that fortunately did not result in any firefighters being injured.

“But we have had instances where firefighters have been struck and it is purely due to people not paying attention, not slowing down and not moving over and giving us that room to work.”

Calgary Police Service Staff Sgt. Rob Patterson recognizes sometimes motorists can be inconvenienced when emergency responders have to take up multiple lanes to attend the scene of a crash. But it’s with good reason, he said.

“Sometimes it is necessary for us to actually take up more space on the road than what our vehicles are currently occupying or the incident we’re dealing with requires to make sure we have that buffer for us. And sometimes that’s to make up for drivers that occasionally aren’t paying attention and that we need that little bit of a window of safety,” Patterson said Thursday.

He said seeing the red, amber and/or blue lights of emergency responders along a roadway is “your cue that somebody up there is working. They’re working in a dangerous situation on the side of any roadway.”

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Click to play video: 'Vehicle pileup closes southbound Stoney Trail in Calgary'
Vehicle pileup closes southbound Stoney Trail in Calgary

“When you’re doing a traffic stop and you’re trying to stop somebody who is doing something unsafe, but as you’re doing that, you can feel the vehicles passing behind you enough to rock the vehicle in front of you, it can be terrifying. And you’re more worried about what’s happening behind you than what’s in front of you,” the staff sergeant said.

“We need to be able to focus. What first responders and roadside emergency workers do requires our focus, it requires our attention and we like to do that without having to bring along a bunch of extra resources to slow down (traffic).”

Patterson said there are no laws preventing drivers to slow down when near active emergency scenes, and he encouraged drivers to practice caution.

“If you’re in doubt of whether or not you should be slowing down in a second or third lane, to make sure that the first responders or roadside workers are doing their job and have the room, then it’s probably better to err on the side of that,” he said.

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Henke urged empathy for emergency responders when drivers are passing them on a scene, saying everyone wants to get home safe.

“I know it’s super frustrating when you want to get somewhere in a certain amount of time and now there’s a collision, traffic has slowed down significantly, you’re frustrated,” the CFD officer said.

“Please keep in mind that someone is probably having a worse day than you are. And that’s why we, the fire department, EMS, police, tow trucks are at the side of the road.”

This is the seventh year of the “slow down, move over” public information campaign in the city. The campaign began when tow truck driver Courtney Schaefer was struck and killed near Esterhazy, Sask., on March 7, 2017.

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