Breakdown Warning Devices

Breakdown Warning DevicesWhen I am not responding to column suggestions I take my inspiration from watching what is going on around me when I drive. The other day I almost turned around to warn a mother and child sitting on the concrete barrier in front of a broken down van towing a tent trailer. Even if the trailer was not stopped partly into the traveled lane I know from investigating collisions that they were at greater risk than they realized.

A kit consisting of at least two reflective orange triangles could have improved these people's safety considerably. Placed at least 4 seconds travel time to the rear, at the rear and halfway in between, three triangles would have given approaching traffic a clue that something hazardous was ahead, especially at night. It's a small investment that could even save a life.

Motorhomes and commercial vehicles that carry more than 10 passengers or are over 2.3 meters in width registered in British Columbia are required to carry approved warning devices. These must consist of devices meant for use during darkness and two red flags of at least 30 by 30 centimeters in size or two warning devices meant for daytime use. Proper warning triangles meet both requirements.

If you break down and put out your warnings, staying in the vehicle or sitting nearby like these people did may not be a good idea. In this case waiting on the other side of the barrier from the traffic would have been better, and well off the roadway would have been best. Of course, sometimes weather or other conditions may not permit this, but think twice about remaining closer to traffic than you really need to.

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Submitted by E-mail

We were coming home from Nanaimo in heavy rain and came across an accident which we did not witness but clearly had only just occurred.  A vehicle appeared to have spun out of control on the very wet road and was turned around, the front end smashed in etc.  A man was flagging down traffic to advise people to slow down and a couple of other cars had stopped.  Since my husband is First Aid trained through Rescue Team involvement he said to me he thought he should stop and offer help, which he did and coincidentally found that one of the other people who had stopped to offer assistance was a Team colleague of his, who is actually a paramedic and they together attended to an injured person until the ambulances arrived.

When my husband offered to help my first thought was for his safety, getting out of the car on a wet road in a 120 kph. speed zone.  Then I had misgivings about my own safety, left in a car at the side of the road, but realised that he had done the right thing by stopping ahead of the accident whereby traffic moving by had then slowed considerably.

The things I learned here were -   that the man flagging down traffic was at risk; he had dark clothing and was ahead of the accident where traffic was still flowing fast.

  •  as well as emergency and first aid gear in the car it would be wise to have a reflective vest and cone
  •  stopping in front of the accident was safer than behind for the reason mentioned above
  •  no matter how skilled one is at first aid it is essential to consider how one would use those skills in less than ideal situations – heavy rain, darkness, roadside etc.?

It’s not until you are in the situation that you discover how well prepared you are (or not) for any eventuality.  Incidentally we have all this emergency gear in the car for any type of emergency – heavy footwear for possibly walking in broken glass etc. medical supplies, emergency food and shelter (all this is from our earthquake preparedness training).

Good input on this thread already

Many years back, I remember on a very dark and rainy, stormy night driving as briskly as seemed safe up the canyon with my friend Neil; remarkably, a guy in a camper truck passed us on one section, despite the terrible visibility.

After a few more turns in the highway, we saw something that only ever seems to occur on warning signs - a rock hazard! The darned cliff had broken away higher up, and some very large chunks of dark wet rock had landed over much of the roadway in our lane. The guy in the camper truck had stuffed his grill into the largest one, he wasn't going anywhere else that night, but they were OK in that vehicle.

But more to the point, there were quite a few cars and trucks using that highway that night, zero lighting, and only half a highway that could still be used.

So we re-postioned our van transversely across the blocked lane with all lights on and flashing, threw our black jackets in it (because we were wearing white T-shirts) and 'took over' that piece of Hwy 12 as 'flagpersons' at each end of the scene. 

Remarkably, though each of us were at transverse times shutting down traffic in each direction on a highway, as needed to guide all these drivers through the remaining clear roadway (there were chunks of basalt or whatever all over the place on the cliff side), we managed to keep the scene safe and moving. When a passing truck driver offered some of his flares, that made things easier; the cops showed up eventually - took them a while though (we'd asked truck drivers going by to get hold of them via CB Radio).


Meanwhile, even earlier than that, I was working as a truck driver for a company based in Winnipeg, in totally different conditions. Summertime, and over 110 in the shade. There was a flatbed trailer that had just been dropped in the yard, and as I recall it had those paper sacks of lime as a load; whatever it was, it damn well spontaneously combusted right there. Or maybe someone threw a cigarette butt, we all smoked back then. Just a few flames at first, and I quickly grabbed a nearby extinguisher in the warehouse and jumped up onto the trailer to put the fire out. The extinguisher didn't work; but somebody else, seeing this, tossed me another one. Didn't work for more than a few seconds. By the time I got a properly working fire extinguisher, and could put out the burning sacks on the trailer, I was also putting out my own jeans.


I only mention this stuff, because when you do need emergency equipment, you need it to work, you need it now, and you need to realize how best to use it.

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