Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Emergency vehicles vulnerable to traffic

Near-victim likes new law

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Tow-truck driver Matthew Charriere has had a lot of close calls when drivers pass by his truck while he gives roadside assistance.

What happened Sunday was too close.

"My biggest fear is just getting hit by another vehicle," said Charriere, who drives for CAA Manitoba.

Charriere was finishing up a roadside call on Garfield Avenue on Sunday around 11 a.m. when a car driving by clipped his side mirror, causing it to snap back from the force. Charriere was standing on the driver's side of his truck, placing his tools on the back seat and had his truck's emergency beacons lit at the time of the collision.

"The vehicle never stopped," Charriere said. "Never stopped to say sorry or see if there was any damage."

And while Charriere said he and other tow-truck drivers are trained to park in a way to get out of the line of traffic, sometimes they can't avoid blocking the road.

That's when the onus is on drivers who pass to avoid a crash, he said.

CAA Manitoba president and CEO Mike Mager said these incidents happen far too frequently, and it's not just tow trucks or emergency vehicles that could be struck on the side of the road. A roadside collision could happen to anyone.

"Imagine if that had been a car full of kids unpacking groceries with their mother in front of their house," said Mager.

The province recognized the need for improved safety of emergency personnel and this month passed first reading of an amendment to the Highway Traffic Act that should make roadside calls safer.

The amendment sets new speed limits when drivers approach and attempt to pass emergency vehicles parked on roadsides. If enacted, the amendment will require drivers approaching a parked emergency or roadside-assistance vehicle to slow to 40 km/h if the speed limit is between 40 km/h and 79 km/h.

Drivers would also have to slow their vehicles to 60 km/h if the speed limit is 80 km/h or more.

The speed limits would not apply to drivers travelling the opposite direction on divided highways.

Mager said CAA strongly supports the amendment since it has the potential to help protect the safety of its drivers and other emergency-vehicle drivers on the road.

In the meantime, Charriere had some advice for drivers passing his truck and other parked vehicles.

"Just slow down. If you can't get past emergency vehicles or a tow truck, just wait an extra few minutes," he said. "It's not worth risking someone's life."

matthew.bedard@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 19, 2012 B3

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