Highway Traffic Act amendment forces drivers to slow down for emergency workers and police

TORONTO, (April 11, 2003) — The Ontario Ministry of Transportation has proclaimed an amendment to the Highway Traffic Act, designed to protect police officers, firefighters and other emergency personnel whose vehicles are stopped on the shoulder of the province’s roadways with red lights flashing.

Bill 191 now requires truckers and motorists to slow down and, when possible on highways with two or more lanes, move to a lane not adjacent to the one in which the emergency vehicle is situated.

“We have lost four officers in Ontario in recent years when they or their vehicles have been stopped at the side of the road,” Bruce Miller, the administrator of the Police Association of Ontario said. “This new legislation will help protect both front-line police officers and the citizens they serve.”

The legislation will apply to all stopped vehicles, excluding school buses, with flashing red lights. Fines for those convicted of disobeying the law will range between $400 and $2,000. For subsequent convictions, the fine will range from $1,000 to $4,000, six months in jail or both a fine and jail sentence. All convictions will result in the addition of three demerit points to a driver’s record, and the court can also suspend a motorist’s licence for up to two years.

Determining a violation can be subjective, admits Bruce O’Neill, Ministry of Public Safety and Security spokesperson. In all circumstances drivers must take into consideration traffic and weather conditions when taking the appropriate action. “In the amendment there’s no defining speed, so it depends on a whole lot of things,” he says. “For example, if traffic is moving at 100 or 110 km an hour, it would be unreasonable to expect someone to suddenly drop their speed to 50 km an hour. It has to be based on common sense as much as anything. We’re not expecting people to hit the brakes and come to a dead stop. But I would suggest 70 or 80 in a 100 km zone would be considered reasonable.”

O’Neill acknowledges that in some high-traffic areas like the 400/401 highway junction in Toronto, the law may perhaps contribute to even further congestion depending on the time of day. However, he says, the safety of emergency and enforcement workers takes precedence.

Saskatchewan is the only other Canadian province to have similar legislation. A number of American states also have some type of emergency safety vehicle legislation.

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