Alberta tow truck operators hopeful blue lights are coming to enhance safety

Tow truck drivers in Alberta are hopeful a new private member’s bill in the legislature will help shine a different light on roadside safety.

In the last two-and-a-half years, the AMA alone has reported 36 near misses and 13 serious roadside incidents with its towing fleet.

One of those serious crashes involved Kevin, a man who had been a tow truck operator for 29 years.

“The friction of her vehicle on my clothes spun me three times and I hit the ground behind her vehicle,” he said.

In that moment, the dangers of his profession became very real, very fast.

“Because if I hadn’t seen her, she would have hit me square in the back,” Kevin said. “There’s a good chance I wouldn’t be here right now.”

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Oil Country Towing has experienced one major collision in each of the last 10 years, including one just last month on the side of the QE2.

“It’s a gut-wrenching feeling. My heart jumped into my throat,” said Don Getschel, the company’s president, as he explained his reaction to hearing one of his team members was struck.

Thankfully, in that particular crash, the operator was in his vehicle and escaped with minor injuries.

But Getschel said things easily could have been much more serious.

“He was just about to get out of the truck to secure his load and doublecheck everything,” he said. “So if that would have happened just a minute later, he would have been struck himself.

“We put ourselves at risk to help people when they have a flat tire, when they break down, when they blow a belt in their car. When they need us, we’re there for them. But it shouldn’t be a life-threatening situation.”

Getschel is also the president of the Towing and Recovery Association of Alberta. He believes drivers have become complacent when seeing amber lights.

For years he and others in the industry, including the AMA, have been asking for permission to use blue lights.

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“Blue and amber flashing lights are one of the most effective colour combinations, particularly in low light and bad weather conditions,” explained Jeff Kasbrick, the AMA’s vice-president of advocacy and operations.

READ MORE: Alberta tow truck drivers want blue emergency lights to slow down drivers

In 2018, then transport minister Brian Mason told Global News he was asking staff to look into the issue, after Saskatchewan made the colour change.

Mason also expressed concerns about blue lights already being used for law enforcement.

“Blue is of course the colour used by police and we don’t want to create confusion,” he said.

In the end, no changes were made.

READ MORE: Blue and amber lights now allowed on Saskatchewan tow trucks

But now, advocates have the support of the Alberta Chiefs of Police as well as the Alberta Motor Transport Association.

A former police officer turned MLA, Brad Rutherford has brought forward the blue lights idea in a private member’s bill.

“What I hope from this is that the blue light is able to signal to other motorists what’s ahead, and to be aware that someone’s going to be out of their vehicle — and that could be the family that’s roadside as well, getting help,” said the MLA for Leduc-Beaumont.

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“The bill has been introduced, it’s gone through committee. It’ll be up for second reading as the next process. I think it’s going to get broad support.”

Rutherford said he can’t give a timeline on when second reading could occur.

But Kasbrick is just hoping it happens soon.

“We don’t want to go another day without ensuring we have that essential protection,” he said.

“Now what we need is the support of our government and the support of our MLA to get us just past that finish line.”

READ MORE: Alberta tow truck operators urge drivers to slow down and move over

In Alberta, drivers must slow down to 60 kilometres an hour when passing a tow truck in an adjacent lane, or move over.

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