Wednesday, June 3, 2009

BC Rule A Tribute To Fallen Canadian Tow Truck Driver

Here's the Vernon Morning Star story:

Vernon Towing manager Keith McLachlan had to lose an employee, and a friend, before the laws would change to reflect common sense.

Ernie Semkiw, a Vernon Towing employee, was struck and killed by a passing van while assisting a disabled vehicle in Vernon on Dec. 13, 2006. Although his flashing lights were activated, vehicles failed to slow down for him.

At that time, there were no laws forcing vehicles to slow down and move over for emergency personnel, including tow trucks.

Emotionally overwhelmed by Semkiw’s death, McLachlan vowed to bring the law to life.

“I made a commitment to his widow that I would see it to its fruition,” said McLachlan, who immediately started writing letters to and calling the solicitor general and other government officials.

He was soon joined with support from others, such as the BCAA Traffic Safety Council, Auto Retailers Association, MLA Tom Christensen and even the driver of the vehicle who Semkiw was assisting when he was killed – Larry Jackson, who is also the executive director of the Ambulance Service for the Interior.

“Ernie was the driver that came to assist me, I was standing beside him when it happened,” said Jackson, recounting the events of that tragic day.

“Although it’s a very difficult situation for me, I wanted something good to come out of this,” said Jackson, who made a strong push to have the legislation changed.

Fast forward two years and both McLachlan and Jackson take comfort in knowing that their efforts helped to force common sense into the motor vehicle act.

Effective Monday, a new motor vehicle act regulation requires drivers to slow down and pull over for every and all emergency vehicles. McLachlan calls it “Ernie’s Law.”

That includes tow trucks, highway maintenance vehicles, conservation officers, commercial and passenger vehicle safety officers – along with paramedics, firefighters and police.

“Essentially what we’ve done is legislate common sense,” said McLachlan.

Jackson adds: “We really need a better level of understanding and caution out there.”

The new regulation requires drivers in an 80 kilometres per hour or higher zone to slow to 70 kilometres per hour when approaching, from either direction, a stopped emergency vehicle with its lights flashing on or beside the highway.

Drivers in a zone posted less than 80 kilometres per hour are required to slow to 40 kilometres per hour.

Motorists must also move into another lane (even an oncoming lane) if it is safe to do so and if another lane is available.

Particularly with the local loss of a tow truck employee, area RCMP are pleased to see the new regulation coming into effect and ready to enforce it.

“Vehicles don’t slow down for them, they just whistle by,” said RCMP spokesman Gord Molendyk. “It is to protect those individuals out there.”

The penalty for not slowing to the designated speed, not moving over if it is safe, or both, will be a fine of $173 and three penalty points.

The fine is considerably higher than the one for failing to yield the right of way to an approaching emergency vehicle, but it reflects the greater risk of injury or death for emergency personnel who may be working outside their vehicle.

As a tow truck driver being in harm’s way more times than he’d care to remember, McLachlan is pleased to see his efforts pay off.

“It’s not going to save everybody but if it educates two-thirds of the general public to slow down...then we’re all going to be a little safer.”

Although it took the loss of a life, McLachlan is pleased to see that his employee and friend’s death wasn’t in vain.

“It’s a huge thing. It’s somewhat a degree of closure to what had happened to Ernie.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

why was this vehicle dollied off the most dangerous part of the highway and not removed by a deck truck? COuld it have been removed off the highway to a safer location & then dollied to it's destination? where was their flackdeck at the time of this accident? could this death have been avoided if the towing company had taken better safety precautions? why was there only 1 truck dispatched to the scene and not 2 trucks, one to block traffic Did the worker's compensation board interview the drivers? It is the responsibility of the owner to provide safe working conditions & not only not leave it up to the public. This is an unfortunate circumstance. In the future, this law could save lives. This circumstance could also be used to shed light on the horrible working conditions tow truck drivers face every day, working in unsafe conditions, afraid to speak up in fear of losing their jobs. What about those drivers? Where's their closure? Sounds to me like McLachlan saved himself from blame this time. How many more deaths will there be?