Fire chiefs across Alberta are disappointed with changes made to roadside safety rules and want to see the data that led the government to alter the original protections in Bill 5.
The Alberta Fire Chiefs Association (AFCA) also raised concerns with what it calls a “lack of consultation” regarding the changes.
Initially introduced in March 2020, the Traffic Safety Act included safety provisions for roadside workers that would require drivers in all lanes of travel in the same direction as well as single-lane undivided highways to slow down to 60 km/h and move over, if safe, when there’s a roadside worker on the side of the road with lights flashing.
On Tuesday, the United Conservative government announced that only drivers in the closest lane of traffic would be required to slow down and move over, if safe to do so.
The province did, however, expand the legislation to include all roadside workers, not just first responders and tow truck operators.
“Government is moving back from its commitment and this is not what was promised to Alberta’s essential tow operators, first responders, as well as the roadside workers who are included in today’s expanded framework,” Jeff Kasbrick, vice president of advocacy the Alberta Motor Association, said on Tuesday.
- ‘Enough is enough’: Ottawa hikes student visa financial onus, threatens limits
- McGill University applications down a ‘catastrophic’ 20% after out-of-province tuition hike
- Loblaw, Walmart face heat on what they are doing to stabilize food prices
- Tories force House of Commons into late-night voting as part of carbon tax fight
The Alberta Fire Chiefs Association (AFCA) voiced its support Thursday for the AMA, expressing its “deep disappointment” and “significant concern” with the changes made to the safety provisions in Bill 5 and asking the transportation minister to share the rationale behind the decision.
The association said the original version of Bill 5 would have improved road safety and protected first responders.
“The AFCA appreciated the comprehensive nature of the original legislation, which mandated that all drivers in lanes moving in the same direction slow down to a speed of 60 kilometres per hour when passing an emergency vehicle displaying flashing lights. This stipulation was particularly critical on two-lane highways, where drivers were required to adhere to the same reduced speed in both directions.
“However, the AFCA is now disheartened to learn of the modifications that were announced on Tuesday” that, as of Sept. 1, “the amendments will exclusively apply to drivers in the lane nearest to the roadside emergency services.
“The rationale behind this change is not readily apparent, and it raises concerns about the potential compromise of safety measures that were previously deemed necessary.”
The AFCA said it has written to Transportation Minister Devin Dreeshen, “seeking transparency in the decision-making process underlying these amendments.
“In light of this modification to the safety provisions of Bill 5, the AFCA respectfully requests access to the study or factual information that informed this change.
“Our objective is to comprehensively understand the reasoning that led to altering the original legislation and to ensure that any amendments made are aligned with the fundamental goal of preserving lives and prioritizing the safety of emergency responders and the public.”
The fire chiefs association said it was not consulted about the changes to Bill 5. The Alberta Motor Association also said it was surprised by the reduction in lanes required to slow down. The Towing & Recovery Association of Alberta was also shocked by the changes.
“As far as I knew, everything was moving forward just as announced,” president Don Getschel said on Tuesday. “Why was this OK in March and not in September? Why did they push it back? What was the reason? Are they doing more research? Because they never shared that.”
During a news conference Tuesday, Dreeshen said the lane requirements were changed “through just consultations with Albertans.
“If you can imagine leaving Edmonton driving south towards Calgary, there are about five lanes on Highway 2 and there’s a curve as you’re getting close to Leduc. If there’s a roadside worker or police pulling someone over on the road, on the right-hand side, and there’s two or three semis between you and that roadside worker, how is everybody in five lanes going to magically slow down to 60 km/h while you’re passing that roadside worker?
“We’ve seen studies and stats that show when you have a disruption of the flow of traffic — so whenever you’re increasing or decreasing — 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.
Dreeshen said the province wanted the rules to be simple, easy to understand and harmonized.
“Whether you’re a paramedic, a police officer, a road maintenance worker, a tow truck driver, the rules are all the same.”
He said the new rules, which were initially supposed to take effect March 1, 2023, were delayed until Sept. 1 for “public engagement.”
“We’re actually rolling out a $1.5-million campaign that’s going to alert all Albertans of these changes coming into effect Sept. 1,” Dreeshen said Tuesday, adding it will be a digital, newspaper and radio awareness campaign.
In a statement Thursday, a spokesperson for the ministry of Transportation and Economic Corridors said they’re “proud to be strengthening the rules to help protect all roadside workers.”
“Starting Sept. 1, all roadside workers and snowplow operators will receive the same protection as police, ambulances, fire trucks and tow truck drivers. Slowing down for all roadside workers helps keep everyone safe, and it helps keep traffic flowing efficiently.”
In regards to requiring just the closest lane of traffic — rather than all lanes — to slow down when passing a roadside worker with flashing lights on, the ministry reiterated what Dreeshen said Tuesday.
“Crash rates are higher in road sections where speed rapidly drops from higher to lower limits. Due to the sudden changes in posted speed limits and road environment, drivers usually do not adapt to the posted speed limits and underestimate their traveling speed — which can result in rear end collisions. In Canada, rear-end collisions are the leading type of collision, accounting for almost 30 per cent of all car crashes.
When the change takes effect, fines and demerits ($243 or $324 and three demerit points) will be applied “for unsafe behaviours when passing roadside workers and snowplows,” the province said.