Edmonton

Blue light pilot program approved for Alberta tow trucks

After years of lobbying, a pilot project will begin at the end of June which will allow blue lights on tow trucks.

'We’ve got to have eyes in the back of our head': Gregg Wilson

Gregg Wilson, owner of APL Towing & Recovery, says blue and amber lights could prevent collisions between tow trucks and other vehicles. One of his drivers was sent to hospital after being struck by the driver of another vehicle in December. (Madeleine Cummings/CBC)

A one-year pilot project will allow tow truck drivers in Alberta to add blue lights to their vehicles to improve driver safety.

Previously, blue lights were strictly limited to police vehicles in Alberta.

Saskatchewan was the first province to allow the lights on tow vehicles. The law was passed in 2017 a month after a driver was killed while responding to a call in a blizzard.

One of Gregg Wilson's driver's was sent to hospital this past December after a crash in Parkland County. The owner of APL Towing and Recovery renewed the calls for policy changes then.

According to Wilson, it continues to be a concern they are dealing with every day.

Another driver ran into this tow truck on the shoulder of Highway 16 in December. The tow truck company's owner hopes blue and amber lights, will improve driver safety going forward. (Submitted by Gregg Wilson)

"Drivers have always been pretty decent at moving over or slowing down," Wilson said. "But there's still the same amount of people that don't seem to care. We've got to have eyes in the back of our head."

A second driver was also hit over the winter. Wilson said his injuries were more serious than the first driver's, but he was also able to recover. 

The extra safety steps that owners are forced to take at times also impacts their businesses, Wilson said. Sending a "blocker truck" has become a common part of tow jobs, especially ones along roads with higher speeds. A second truck will join to ensure they are able to have the space needed to work safely. 

Wilson says keeping staff safe is key but the labour, gas and reduced capacity to respond to other jobs takes its toll.

"It's killing businesses, like, literally," Wilson said.

"I know lots of people that are struggling and to put another truck on the road means that the customer is going to be paying more unless its more of a courtesy by the company if they can afford that."

He's hopeful the blue lights will be enough to allow tow truck operators to function with out the need for extra trucks, but that comes down to drivers on Alberta roads.

"It only takes one person to not slow down to cause a big incident," he said.

Research showed the amber and blue light combination was one of the most effective when trying to attract motorists' attention, according to Jeff Kasbrick, vice president of advocacy and operations with the Alberta Motor Association (AMA).

He told that to CBC in a 2021 interview with CBC's Radio Active, and added that the organization had been lobbying the government for more than three years. Kasbrick said at the time that AMA drivers respond to high risk calls daily.

Since Dec. 2019, AMA data shows at least 36 near misses and 14 incidents involving tow trucks. 

In a release outlining the pilot's approval, the province said it is also considering allowing the lights on snowplows.

Numbers from Alberta Transportation show 128 collisions with government contracted snowplows between March 2018 and March 2021. 

The one-year pilot project for tow trucks will begin June 30.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tricia Kindleman

Reporter/Producer

Tricia Kindleman has spent her life in Alberta. She grew up in Edmonton and attended Mount Royal College, now university, in Calgary. She has worked in newsrooms in Edmonton and Grande Prairie.

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