Warning Lights

FLASHING BLUE WARNING LIGHTS ARE STAYING PUT IN ALBERTA – HERE’S WHY IT MATTERS

flashing blue led warning lights

Flashing blue LED warning lights will continue to shine in Alberta for another five years following a 1-year pilot program that allowed tow truck drivers and other maintenance vehicles on the road the option to add these to their existing amber lights. The news is listed on the “Successful Advocacy Efforts” page of the Alberta Motor Transport Association.

Still optional, these lights were allowed following several years of lobbying by the Towing and Recovery Association of Alberta and the Alberta Motor Association (AMA), as well as other construction and maintenance workers in the province.

This blog will explain the pilot project that started it all, why the Alberta government has voted to extend it and why this is a major victory for road safety.

Alberta emergency workers' blue light campaign

Amber warning lights have been in production since the 1930s, and are commonly used to signal caution. In Alberta, amber flashing lights on vehicles are used to distinguish maintenance and utility vehicles from emergency vehicles, the latter of which use red and white lights. Police vehicles are also distinguished with different colours, in this case, blue and red.

Many people, however, believe that amber light alone isn’t visible enough. The province launched a pilot project last June, allowing the optional use of flashing blue and amber lights on highway maintenance vehicles like snowplows and tow trucks. For years, members of the industry, including the Towing and Recovery Association of AMA, had been asking for permission to use blue lights. The industry had the support of the Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police.

Since December 2019, there have been 14 serious roadside incidents involving Alberta tow trucks, and at least 36 documented cases of a near miss, according to the AMA. One of those accidents involved tow truck driver Trevor Snyder, whose vehicle was struck by a semi-trailer truck in January of 2020. While the tow truck driver survived the crash, the semi driver did not. Since then, Snyder has been advocating for blue lights on working highway vehicles, and he was not alone in his campaign. Last year, according to a bill proposed by Brad Rutherford, MLA for Leduc-Beaumont, a one-year blue light trial began in June.

In addition to the lights, Alberta is also legislating mandatory slowdown for drivers when they encounter maintenance vehicles on two-way highways. Alberta drivers must now slow to 60 kilometers per hour when passing tow trucks, emergency vehicles and highway maintenance vehicles that are stopped with their lights flashing. If possible, they are also required to move to an open lane, allowing for one lane of separation between the workers and passing traffic.

Why blue LED lights for added highway safety?

Blue is more easily visible to the human eye than amber or yellow. A recent AMA study conducted on people who have reportedly seen blue flashing lights in use on a tow truck shows that 86.9 percent of them agree that blue and amber lights are more visible than amber alone. Yet, they must be used together. According to Alberta’s Traffic Safety Services Division, utility vehicles must continue to use their amber lights in addition to the blue; the use of only blue safety lights has not been mandated.

Non-compliance fines are set to be doubled following the continued use of blue and amber lights, and the new rules about passing utility and emergency vehicles on the highway. The current fine for passing a stopped emergency vehicle without moving into a farther lane is about $136 to $826. The cost varies according to the speed of the passing vehicle.

“Adding blue lights on tow trucks has been a simple change with a profound benefit. It has improved visibility and safety on the roadside for our province’s essential tow operators and the Albertans they’re responding to,” said Michelle Chimko, President and CEO of the Alberta Motor Association.

Transportation Minister Devin Dreeshen stated, “We are extending these projects to make sure these important safety measures remain in place so those who work on our highways can go home safely to their families at the end of their shifts.”

The current conditions for utility drivers using blue and amber lights include the following:

  • Compliancy with the Society of Automotive Engineers’ standards for all flashing lights
  • Flashing lights must be controlled from within the vehicle
  • There must be an indicator within the vehicle that easily shows when flashing bulbs are on

Will the blue and amber lights ever be permanently mandated by Alberta?

Following the success of the one-year pilot project, the next five years allow workers, lighting experts, traffic officials, etc. the chance to troubleshoot any issues and standardize the way blue and amber lights are built, mounted and used. Don Getschel, owner of Oil Country Towing and President of the Towing and Recovery Association of Alberta, told reporters that a lack of direction initially caused some implementation issues over the last year.

“At first, it was a scramble because we didn’t know what to do. The government didn’t give us any direction. There was no communication until we initiated it.” As a result of this lack of communication between Alberta Transportation officials and those in utility industries, there were mishaps like the regulation of blue and amber lights only on roof mounts of vehicles. Said Getschel, “Ninety-five percent of tow trucks don’t have their lights on their roof. They are on a light pylon, so this became very challenging, as no one was actually in compliance with the program.”

Getschel reached out to the Registrar of Motor Vehicle Services of Alberta Transportation on behalf of the TRAA and others in the industry to begin a dialogue, and says he is happy with the results so far. He also reports that though there is more to be done to make this project work, his employees have noticed traffic slowing down more regularly when they are on the highway working.

Alberta Transportation is reportedly working on a permit-based program for the blue and amber lights, but for now, drivers using the optional dual-light system must carry their official letters of exemption with them on the road.

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