Tuesday, May 14, is Slow Down Move Over Awareness Day. CAA Manitoba says it's an annual event when attention is given to the ongoing issue concerning of the lack of attention motorists pay to emergency vehicles on the side of the road. 

Portage resident Laura Harder was teaching someone to drive and raised this issue quite stringently.

"I count tow trucks and see them just like any other emergency vehicle. And it's one of the very first things I taught my sibling that while I'm teaching them to drive, you move over, change streets, and get out of their way. They're busy. They're doing dangerous work as it is. Anything on those tow trucks can go wrong at any second. They got to worry about that. They don't also need to be worrying about you. So, just get out of their way."

Laura HarderLaura Harder

She notes she explained that these workers have families and need to go home like the rest of us. Harder says they don't need to worry about whether or not people will slow down and move over, while they're at work on the side of the street. 

"If I see them on Lorne Ave., I'll go into Fisher or the Avenue, or anywhere away from them. It's not worth it to see what kind of accident is there while they're on the job. You'll hear about it in the news. Move on."

Ken Erickson is owner of Kitson's Service Station and says people always blow past his tow truck drivers on the side of the roadways.

"They need to slow down and watch for tow trucks, police, fire trucks, or any emergency vehicle on the side of the road and give them space to work. People seem so distracted nowadays that they don't pay attention to what's happening in front of them. Fairly often, you need to move out of the way when they're coming down the road, when they should be doing that for you."

He adds it's just normal and they always expect it. Erickson says you really do get fed up with it after a while.

"Probably 80 per cent of the vehicles that pass you don't slow down or move over."

Manager of government and Community relations with CAA Manitoba Ewald Friesen outlines the problem.

"The legislation came into effect in 2011 here in Manitoba. Over the years, we've discovered that folks aren't really paying attention to these laws. We have tow truck operators out there on the side of the road every day in all kinds of conditions and all kinds of weathers, year round, and we are hearing from the front lines that this is, obviously, a very serious issue. It sparked us to put a little survey in the field and see how we're doing and the the results from the survey were very, very interesting. We learned that, despite the fact that 85 per cent of drivers say that they are aware of Slow Down Move Over laws, when asked to point out the correct definition of the law, less than half of them got it right. So, only 41 per cent had actually a clear understanding of what that definition is. Obviously, a lack of understanding of the Slow Down Move Over laws poses a significant safety risk to tow truck operators and emergency vehicles, including fire, paramedic, ambulance, and police."

CAA truck​​​​​​Slow down and move over to the left lane when you see this on the side of the road - photo courtesy of CAA Manitoba

He notes another survey result was equally troubling.

"We found that only one-third of drivers confuse the Slow Down Move Over law for the law that says if an ambulance is coming up behind you, pull over and let them pass. That's not the same law. The Slow Down Move Over law is when you see them up ahead, and you plan your route, drop your speed, and go into that other lane. We wanted to use this day -- this very special day -- for us and our friends in the first response, to raise some awareness on what we can do to make the roads a little safer." 

Friesen explains the law says that if the supposed speed limit is less than 80 kilometres an hour, reduce your speed to 40 kilometres an hour and get into that open lane. If the speed limit is 80 kilometres or higher, reduce your speed to 60 kilometres an hour and get into that open lane. 

"A good rule of thumb, that I find you can never go wrong with, is reduce the posted speed limit by half, and you won't get a ticket. Then get into that open lane wherever you can."

He says the penalties are very much more extreme than what the average person thinks they are. 

"Automatically, you can have your license suspended for a year, two demerit points, and they can range as high as a $2,000 fine for not following it. And the survey that we did recently also found that almost one-quarter of drivers were completely unaware of the penalties associated with the law. I think what the picture that we're painting is that most Manitobans want to follow these laws, obviously, but the problem is there's an education piece here. We're hoping to close that gap." 

Friesen says the penalties are strict because it really is a serious issue. He notes one tow truck operator contacted them two weeks ago. He informed them that he was hooking up a car on Portage Ave. with strobes flashing and the pylons set up behind him. 

"Not a single car slowed down on Portage Avenue while he was trying to help pull him and get her car back on the road. They simply flew past him. And what's more is that cars started piling up behind him, expecting him to make a left-hand turn at any moment rather than slowly making their way around him. He was wondering, 'Where do you expect me to go? I'm at work here.' This tells the story of not a lack of courtesy so much, but a lack of understanding."

He addresses the severity of the issue, saying there are far too many examples of people not adhering to the laws. 

"Last year alone, we had injuries and fatalities all over the country. For instance, in Sidney, Manitoba, a tow truck operator from Full Tilt was hit by a car while working on the Trans Canada Highway on March, 2020, in Saskatchewan. The tow truck operator was hooking up his winch to the car. He was going to tow when he looked up and saw a semi-truck coming directly for him. In 2022 in Arnprior, Ontario, Phil Smith was on the job helping a stranded driver on Hwy. 417 when he was struck by a snow plow. The list goes on. In 2021 and 2019, we're seeing deaths, fatalities, and injuries. But I think the biggest part of the story is how many of these are going unreported? While fatalities are logged, and while injuries are noted, so many of these are simply flying under the radar without much attention. These are the stories we hear over at CAA. These are the ones we hear back from our operators out there." 

Friesen adds the reality is that in the last decade, there have been 100 tow truck fatalities in North America and these fatalities, which are generally reported upon. But this does not tell the whole story, as the situation is much worse. 

"There are injuries that are exponentially higher than that figure that happen every year. And then there are those near misses. So, a lot of our operators will be on a call. They'll be working on the side of the road, which we know in Manitoba, that is not an ideal place to do some work. They'll lose a mirror. A car will hit their pylons. A car will fly past them at a high speed and just barely avoid hitting them. Those generally go unreported. Those are the ones we hear about. So, the situation isn't getting much better. We want to use this day to raise awareness. It's especially important coming into summertime. A lot of us will be in a hurry to hit the beach or get to the cottage. This is when we see a lot of this stuff happening. Obviously, some of the hazards on the road are a bit different in wintertime. We've got a different situation to deal with, which is the ice, the snow, the poor visibility, and the lack of snow tires. This is a year-round issue, but we're going to see those speeding-related issues cropping up again."