Q&A - Tow Trucks Blocking Lanes

Q&A ImageQ: We know why they do it.... but what legal authority do break down vehicles have to block (cone off) a whole lane on the highway one when the stall is on the shoulder?

Comments

Answer

This is a situation that often bothers me as a driver. Sometimes a breakdown vehicle or tow truck is at the roadside in front of the broken down vehicle or positioned in a way that makes their flashing warning lights difficult to see until you are very near to the location that they are working. Now you have to slow down and move over if possible with little time to do it.

Lack of notice means that the move over part of the requirement may be difficult to do, so the worker is actually reducing their own safety margin.

The Motor Vehicle Act places requirements for work taking place on a highway.

Work in progress

138 On a highway where new construction, reconstruction, widening, repair, marking or other work is being carried out, traffic control devices must be erected indicating that persons or equipment are working on the highway.

How often have you seen advance warning signs placed on the side of the highway where the tow truck or service vehicle is working?

Erection of speed sign

139 On a highway where new construction, reconstruction, widening, repair, marking or other work is being carried out, traffic control devices must be erected to limit the rate of speed of vehicles or to restrict the manner in which the vehicles are to proceed on the highway.

This rule has essentially been made somewhat redundant by the slow down, move over law. Unless a speed of less than 40 km/h in municipal areas or 70 km/h in rural areas is required for safety there is no need to place speed control signs.

Obeying flagger

141 If a flagger is controlling the movements of traffic around the section of highway being worked on, a person must not drive or operate a vehicle other than as directed by the flagger.

Sadly, some drivers have trouble with this. Ask any flagger and they all have stories to tell about drivers who are more important than anyone else using the road.

The placement of traffic control devices (cones and signs) is also governed by the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations in Part 18. This part references the Traffic Control Manual maintained by the Ministry of Transportation that details how these devices must be used.

The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure also provided the following information:

Tow truck drivers are empowered to temporarily close a lane, if necessary, to protect roadside workers and the travelling public, as long as they carry out the necessary traffic management procedures.

A tow truck operator can also contact local law enforcement and ask for assistance in securing a safe work environment by attending the site and engaging blue flashing lights.

Tow trucks blocking lanes

I didn’t realize that tow trucks were included under Sec 122.1 of the Motor Vehicle Act. According to the above statement the ministry allows them to stop and stand and where they see fit to close or block a lane. I’m quite sure this would never hold up should some motorist be injured or killed as a result of this unwritten law.

Slow Down - Move Over is a great idea, but with most tow trucks having their “roof mounted” flashing lamps actually not mounted on the roof but behind the cab, this makes the visibility of these safety devices all but practical except on decktrucks.

isnt it better if the towing industry were to use buffer vehicles with arrow boards to let traffic approaching a working tow truck ahead of a breakdown as more effective than just taking a risk in hope someone will notice.

police and fire even the ambulance don’t make stops in which their emergency lighting is blocked from view. So why do tow trucks now want blue and white flashing lamps in BC when it’s already impractical to see their amber lights. 

Some forethought goes goes a long way before demanding emergency vehicle lighting or authority in law.

Not Included

Tow trucks are not emergency vehicles:

"emergency vehicle" means any of the following:

(a) a motor vehicle, or cycle as defined in Part 3, carrying rescue or first aid equipment if there is an urgent emergency justifying a rate of speed in excess of any maximum rate of speed provided for in this Act;

(b) a motor vehicle, or cycle as defined in Part 3, driven by a member of a fire department in the discharge of his or her duties;

(c) a motor vehicle, or cycle as defined in Part 3, driven by a peace officer, constable or member of the police branch of Her Majesty's Armed Forces in the discharge of his or her duty;

Section 122 does not apply to them.

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