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Surprise! Emergency-vehicle law ambushes Prairie truckers

REGINA, Sask. - A new law requiring drivers to slow down when approaching emergency personnel at the side of Saskatchewan highways is catching some truckers off-guard.And the results can be costly.Ame...

REGINA, Sask. – A new law requiring drivers to slow down when approaching emergency personnel at the side of Saskatchewan highways is catching some truckers off-guard.

And the results can be costly.

Amendments to the Sask. Highway Traffic Act went into effect last Aug. 1, requiring motorists to slow to 60 km/h when approaching an emergency vehicle on the side of the road while its lights are flashing.

There was no enforcement of the law, however, until the legislation was modified in January 2001, to accommodate a voluntary payment plan.

Now the law is being strongly enforced and some truck drivers are livid at the lack of publicity the new law has received.

Rick Triggs frequently drives through Saskatchewan for Winnipeg, Man.-based George Smith Trucking.

He was unaware the law existed until he was handed a $307 ticket on Mar. 10 for driving by a police car that was parked on the opposite shoulder of the highway.

Although he was driving under the posted speed limit, Trigg’s clean driver’s abstract may be blemished because he violated a law he didn’t know existed.

“They said they put it out by word of mouth and they had it in the local newspapers but I never, ever heard of it,” says Triggs. “I don’t know when the grace period was or when they issued warnings.”

Triggs explained that he was unaware of the new law, but the police officer that pulled him over was unsympathetic.

“I said that I’ve never, ever heard of this law at all and she said ‘Well, that’s the law and we don’t give out warnings,'” explains Triggs.

RCMP Staff Sgt. Jim Barr says that there is no excuse for people to ignore the law, and that warnings will not be issued any further.

He adds the law amendments have been advertised “several times,” in fact.

Rhonda Raddatz, manager of driver safety services with Saskatchewan Government Insurance, says her department has been trying to promote the legal changes.

“We are continuing to educate the public through different means,” says Raddatz, noting that trucking companies and local media have been issued notices. “The biggest challenge is communicating it.”

Although the law has received some publicity, there has been some confusion about when it was to come into place.

“When the law itself went into effect on Aug. 1, 2000, it required a mandatory court appearance initially until we got a voluntary payment plan utilized,” says Raddatz.

“It wasn’t enforced initially because originally there was an education period. But as of January 1, they started to really apply it.”

The Saskatchewan Trucking Association supports the law, and they did their part to notify trucking companies that the law was in place.

“It’s been well publicized,” says Jim Friesen, general manager of the association.

“We’ve certainly sent it out to our members and we’ve sent it out to other associations across the country with our newsletter.”

Failing to slow down will net drivers fines of $140 plus $2 for every km/h over 60.

If the driver is exceeding the speed limit, it’s even more costly, with fines of $140 plus $4 for every km/h over 60.

Although some drivers are unhappy at receiving such high fines without so much as a warning, Raddatz says the law is a good one and, for the most part, it has been well received.

“It’s a law that was initiated to improve the safety of people that are operating in and around safety vehicles,” says Raddatz, noting the law was sparked after a truck killed an RCMP officer two years ago.

“People are supportive of it. It makes sense.”

Triggs says that he is not opposed to the new law, just the lack of promotion that accompanied it.

“I’m not opposed to the law because I used to work for the Highways Department and I know what it’s like to see people not slow down,” says Triggs.

“It’s just that there’s no publicity about it. They must have put it in the local newspaper once and then forgot about it.”

He suggests the government place signs on the side of the road so drivers from outside Saskatchewan are aware of the unique law.

In the meantime, Triggs plans to fight the charge, in hopes that the fine doesn’t mar 2 million unblemished kilometres. n

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