Blue light pilot program approved for Alberta tow trucks

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A year-long pilot project will allow Alberta tow truck drivers to add blue lights to their vehicles to improve driver safety.

Previously, blue lights were strictly limited to police vehicles in Alberta.

Saskatchewan was the first province to allow headlights on tow vehicles. The law was passed in 2017, a month after a driver was killed while responding to a call in a blizzard.

One of Gregg Wilson’s drivers was sent to hospital last December after an accident in Parkland County. The owner of APL Towing and Recovery then renewed calls for policy changes.

According to Wilson, this continues to be a concern they face every day.

Another driver hit this tow truck on the shoulder of Highway 16 in December. The tow truck company owner hopes the blue and amber lights will improve driver safety in the future. (Submitted by Gregg Wilson)

“Drivers have always been pretty decent to move or slow down,” Wilson said. “But there are still the same number of people who don’t seem to care. We have to have eyes in the back of our heads.”

A second driver was also hit during the winter. Wilson said his injuries were more serious than those of the first driver, but he was also able to recover.

The extra security measures owners are sometimes forced to take also impact their businesses, Wilson said. Dispatching a “blocker truck” has become a common part of towing jobs, especially those along high-speed roads. A second truck will join them to make sure they are able to have the space they need to work safely.

Wilson says staff safety is key, but labor, gas and reduced ability to meet other jobs are taking their toll.

“It kills businesses, literally,” Wilson said.

“I know a lot of people who are struggling and putting another truck on the road means the customer is going to pay more unless it’s no longer a courtesy from the company if they can afford it.”

He hopes the blue lights will be enough to allow tow truck operators to operate without the need for additional trucks, but that comes down to drivers on Alberta roads.

“It only takes one person not to slow down to cause a big incident,” he said.

Research has shown that the combination of orange and blue light is one of the most effective at getting motorists’ attention, according to Jeff Kasbrick, vice president of advocacy and operations for the Alberta Motor Association (AMA).

He told CBC this in a 2021 interview with CBC’s Active radio, and added that the organization had been lobbying the government for more than three years. Kasbrick said at the time that AMA drivers responded to high-risk calls daily.

Since December 2019, AMA data shows at least 36 near-misses and 14 incidents involving tow trucks.

In a statement outlining the pilot’s approval, the province said it is also considering allowing headlights on snow plows.

Figures from Alberta Transportation show 128 collisions with government-contracted snowplows between March 2018 and March 2021.

The one-year pilot project for tow trucks will begin on June 30.

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