A year ago today, an RCMP constable from Amherst was killed on a New Brunswick highway while changing a flat tire for a motorist.
Const. Frank Deschenes died when a cargo van driven by a man from Pennsylvania struck his cruiser near Memramcook. The 12-year veteran of the Mounties was newly married and the story of his 2008 rescue of a woman in a car stuck on railway tracks near Truro as a train approached was recounted during his funeral.
As Deschenes was eulogized, many reflected on what it’s like to be an emergency worker who spends a lot of time on the shoulders of our highways.
One comment from a retired Mountie was telling. Tim Nicholson, in an interview after the incident, talked about his experience on roadsides while attending to accidents or ticketing speeders.
“I’ve had close calls and you can feel the cars when you’re up at the window of someone else’s car and it almost feels like your pants or jacket are being pulled off from the draft.”
Paints a picture, doesn’t it? If vehicles are zooming by at those speeds, you’re clearly not safe if you can feel a draft as they pass. Const. Deschenes’ tragedy proves that beyond doubt. That’s why move-over laws are so important.
The details of the laws vary from province to province, but the idea is similar: If you see flashing lights on an emergency vehicle, slow down. If you’re on a divided highway, move into the left lane if you can do so safely.
In Nova Scotia, the law was not well-known and seemed rarely enforced. But since Deschenes’ death, police have made an effort to make drivers aware of it by writing more tickets.
It worked, as a stiff fine (they start at $350 but a judge can increase it) will, and letters to the editor, along with follow-up stories, began appearing in these pages.
Most jurisdictions, including our sister Atlantic provinces, have laws that require motorists to slow down and proceed with caution, moving to the left lane if it’s safe. But Nova Scotia imposes a speed limit of 60 kilometres per hour when approaching these scenes, even if travelling on a 100-series divided highway with a posted limit of 110.
That can force some dramatic braking and merging, which some have said is unsafe in itself.
But the most important aspect of the law is public awareness. Emergency workers are charged with the responsibility of helping us out when we’re in trouble. They shouldn’t be unsafe when they’re carrying out their duties.
So, the next time you see those flashing lights, ease up a bit on the gas and move over.