Opinion: Use your head when approaching emergency workers at roadside

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Every time I see a policeman or a tow-truck driver working at the side of a busy road, I get the willies. The risk is so obvious, so profound. A driver’s momentary inattention or wilful carelessness can snuff out a life in a millisecond. It happens far too often.

In the last few years, more and more drivers have taken to moving over a lane to give safety space when they approach some sort of emergency roadside activity, and I’d say it’s become almost common. It’s the law in some places, thankfully. But not every driver understands that or is so considerate.

Sometimes in busy traffic it’s just not possible. I found myself in that position just a few days ago with a sick rig on the shoulder and a big wrecker in front with its driver walking back – on the road side — to the poor dude in the semi. I saw this from ahead but I was in the right lane in dense traffic moving at speed and had few options. I could simply slow down, move over a bit while staying in my lane, or brake to await space on my left. The latter was impractical – rife with its own potential dangers on a fast-moving multi-lane highway – and there was no room to move safely over by much more than a foot. I did that, and slowed down as much as I could, though in that situation what’s the diff between 100 and 90 km/h?

In any case, I cleared the tow-truck guy by two or three feet, I suppose. I did the best I could in the circumstances, and it was good enough, but that fellow was way too vulnerable for way too long. I watched in my mirror to see how other drivers were dealing with things and, like me, most had no choice but to continue as they were.

A couple of things occurred to me in that moment, not for the first time. One, why didn’t that tow trucker exit from his right door and walk back to the disabled truck on the offside? He could just as easily have spoken to his customer by way of the truck’s passenger door. And two, similarly, why don’t cops approach the driver they’ve just pulled over from the passenger side, too? I’ve been stopped more than a few times over the years and can’t remember one time when that happened, on busy roads or quiet ones.

Is there some sort of bravado going on here?

I know a little about that, having spent several summers years ago as a marshal at sports car races. You know, standing trackside with a flag or a fire extinguisher as fast Mustangs and Austin Healeys raced by just a few feet away, mostly under control. Once a thundering Camaro lost it under braking just before my corner and forced me to leap out of its way, a split second clear of my demise. I sit trackside photographing the Rodeo du Camions races, two or three feet away from mighty Petes roaring by off the start line with all 3,000 lb-ft of torque fully engaged. Am I stupid? Not for me to say, I guess, but the thrill seems to be worth the risk. Actually, that’s not it. It’s just the job.

And I guess it’s the same for the cops and tow truckers who ply their trades on the sides of Canadian highways. It’s just what they do, what they’re paid to do. I just wish they’d use a little more caution, though of course the much bigger responsibility rests with those of us driving by. Please, people, let’s give these folks a break.

Just use your heads.


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Rolf Lockwood is editor emeritus of Today's Trucking and a regular contributor to Trucknews.com.

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