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Behind-the-Wheel

When highways are closed

We have come to expect that our highways will always be open to us to use at any time under all conditions. When something occurs, such as a serious collision, some drivers still think that their convenience takes priority over all other issues and the highway should not be closed to them.

This was the case recently when firefighters were directing traffic at a collision in an intersection. Drivers were aggressively disregarding instructions aimed at keeping the scene safe for emergency personnel as well as to share the open lanes with the traffic that was present.

Any highway closure is actually the responsibility of the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, usually accomplished through the road maintenance contractor. Vancouver Island Highway Patrol has agreed with the Ministry that closures of 30 minutes or less in duration can be managed by the police. Similar agreements may be in place elsewhere in our province.

If the closure is going to be longer than that period of time, it becomes the responsibility of the road maintenance contractor who will provide the necessary manpower and equipment to close the highway and look after redirection of traffic if it is possible.

Police do have powers to direct traffic as set out in the Motor Vehicle Act and often use them to effect temporary closures in order to facilitate rescue operations during a serious crash.

The police have the responsibility to investigate a crash properly. Due to the nature of some crash scenes in order to gather the evidence completely and safely, the highway must be closed for a period of time.

The Occupational Health and Safety Regulation requires that "effective traffic control is provided and used whenever traffic could be hazardous to a worker." This would include all other personnel at the scene including fire, Emergency Health Services and towing.

In the case of the aggressive drivers mentioned earlier, the firefighters were acting as traffic control persons and their directions must be obeyed.

If you were the victim in a crash, you would expect any needed emergency assistance and that the police to do a thorough investigation. With that expectation comes the duty to extend the same consideration to others. This may include being inconvenienced by not having the expected use of the highway.

Know before you go: Current Highway Incidents on DriveBC Website

This story is also posted on DriveSmartBC.



More Behind the Wheel articles

About the Author

Tim Schewe is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement experience. He has been writing his column for most of the 20 years of his service in the RCMP.

The column was 'The Beat Goes On' in Fort St. John, 'Traffic Tips' in the South Okanagan and now 'Behind the Wheel' on Vancouver Island and here on Castanet.net.

Schewe retired from the force in January of 2006, but the column has become a habit, and continues.

To comment, please email

To learn more, visit DriveSmartBC



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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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