Alberta tow truck industry wants safety changes after operator hit by passing semi

A tow truck operator is recovering from surgery after being hit in a crash involving a semi-trailer while working on the side of a snowy highway Sunday night.

Towing association wants blue-and-white warning lights permitted on trucks

An employee for Oil Country Towing was struck by a semi-trailer while working on the side of Highway 2 near Leduc Sunday night. The employee is recovering in hospital. (Supplied/Oil Country Towing Facebook)

A tow truck operator is recovering from surgery after being hit in a crash involving a semi-trailer while working on the side of a snowy highway Sunday night.

The incident has the industry repeating its call for the provincial government to permit blue-and-white flashing lights on working tow trucks.

"It's hard knowing that I've got staff out there risking their lives to help people," said Don Getschel, owner of Oil Country Towing, which serves the Edmonton area.

Two of his operators answered a call on Highway 2, just south of Leduc, around 9:30 p.m. Sunday. Snow was falling heavily in the area at the time, and the company had responded to about 100 calls in the area that day.

While one was winching a vehicle to get it out of the ditch, a second truck was acting as a "blocker truck," parking about 300 metres in front of the other to alert passing vehicles, Getschel said. 

"Then this semi-truck started slipping on the ice and he was coming so fast that he hit the blocker truck and he also hit the truck that was doing the work pulling the car out of the ditch," he said.

The working tow truck operator ran into the ditch for safety but was hit by a second semi-truck that had swerved toward the ditch to avoid the first collision.
Oil Country Towing posted on Facebook about an incident involving an employee who was struck by a semi-truck. (Supplied/Facebook)

The tow truck operator suffered a severely broken arm. Getschel was waiting for an update on his condition on Monday.

Such incidents are "just all too common," he said, adding that tow truck drivers are at the greatest risk when working on highway calls.

"We're trying to get our lights changed," he said. "Blue lights are more visible through snow and foggier weather. It gives more advanced warning and lets people know we're working."

Tow trucks currently use amber lights, similar to those on garbage trucks, snow plows, and utility vehicles. 

"People have become accustomed to seeing amber beacons and they're just numb," said Jean-Francois Gagnon, chairman of the Towing and Recovery Association of Alberta, which has been lobbying for regulatory changes to the Traffic Safety Act that would permit such a change. 

"It would just differentiate tow trucks from the rest of the stuff that you don't have to slow down for," Gagnon said.

Last year, Wayne Drysdale, UCP MLA for Grande Prairie Wapiti, introduced a private member's bill that would prompt such a change. But the proposal died before it could reach second reading. 

The MLA raised the issue again in the legislature last week, asking Transportation Minister Brian Mason if he had any plans to implement the proposal.

Mason said it was under consideration, adding that his office had been in contact with officials in Saskatchewan where a similar change had been implemented.

Mason also said that vehicles are legally required to slow down when passing a tow truck with flashing lights.