By Nikki Jamieson
A lack of consistency in how pilot cars operate has Vauxhall council wanting regulations on wide-loads travelling up and down highways.
During their regular Oct. 17 meeting of Vauxhall town council, Mayor Margaret Plumtree brought up the issue of pilot cars on the highway.
“The reason I’m bringing up the issue of pilot cars is I’m hearing it a bit with Highway 36,” said Plumtree.
“I’ve had my own issues with either pilot cars doing some, making me do really crazy, dangerous things, like passing in really bad areas, and they’re like ‘No, you go’, and I’m like ‘Yeah, I’m not comfortable with that, right’, to vehicles not having pilot cars.”
Plumtree asked council to approve a letter that she could bring to the next Mayors and Reeves meeting, to get their support for consistent training for the drivers of pilot cars, and ensure that certain size loads or vehicles have a pilot car with them.
“All in all, it’s about safety on the highways. And a lot of times, right, on Highway 36, there’s traffic going one direction, traffic coming from another direction, there’s no room, no shoulders on the highways. It’s about keeping people safe.”
When asked under what circumstances they can stop pilot cars or oversized-loaders, during the Taber/Vauxhall RCMP delegation, Cst. Jason Wierenga told council that, as the RCMP deal primarily with Criminal Code violations, they generally only do so if they feel there is a safety issue.
“The problem is that our training is not specialized in that area,” said Wierenga. “Now, if I felt there was a safety issue, what I would do is pull them over, and that I would be calling CV — Commercial Vehicle Enforcement — and for us that would mean calling Coutts, because they’re open 24 hours, I have access to an officer there. They’re trained specifically in this area, and I would rely on the information they give me about what to do.
“That’s a very specialized area of traffic enforcement; and they’re given courses and weeks of training on those type of things. Like drivers hours and stuff like that; I know there are specialized formulas for that out there, I couldn’t tell you what it is and how to enforce it; I would rely on a phone call to Commercial Vehicle Enforcement.”
Also adding to the confusion of enforcement is farm equipment that takes up a lot of room on the highway, but have a separate set of rules to abide by.
“There’s specific rules for commercial vehicles, and then there are farming equipment, which are given a lot of exemptions,” said Wierenga. “They’re supposed to have a permit for this kind of thing — there is a permit that exists for it. But ultimately, does it effect safety? You can have the permit or not, you’re still covering up that much lane and you don’t have a vehicle with you or whatever.
“I do see some farmers taking proactive measures, which apparently, they don’t have to take, and that’s like running a vehicle with four-way flasher on ahead or behind — usually ahead — I do see some of that. I see some of the colonies, for instance, will run a bunch in a row, so at least you got the first one, you react to that and you are probably in a safer position to handle the rest of them as well. But there’s not a lot of regulations about that.”
Some of the regulations Plumtree would like to see is a mandatory pilot car if a vehicle is of a certain width, and warning when approaching a hill if a wide-load is on the other side of it.
However, she believes the Alberta government should set these regulations.
“I’m not saying we need to figure out what the regulations need to be,” said Plumtree.
“I’m just saying the (provincial) government needs to figure out what these regulations are and make them consistent.”
“Especially in the dark; because that’s where the biggest issue (is). Because you’ll see, whether industrial or farm, stuff moving after dark that does not have adequate lights to show how wide the darn thing is,” said Richard Phillips, Vauxhall councillor.
“All of a sudden, yeah, you’re forced over on the side of the road, then you’re hoping nobody has abandoned something on the shoulder of the road, because if it has, you’re going to hit it because you’re blinded by the oncoming headlights and then you suddenly realize it’s a way wide load, and it’s a very dangerous situation.”
Phillips also said he would like to know more about what the regulations are for pilot cars and wide-load vehicles, and suspects that some commercial vehicles might be breaking them.
“I suspect that non-farm stuff probably already legally has to be well-lit or not be travelling at night. So, when you run into one of those, right now which happens too often, I’m guessing they’re breaking the law. A better law isn’t going to help in that case, you need enforcement and compliance with existing law,” said Phillips.
“Again, I’m just guessing that’s the law, but I’ll be surprised if non-farm traffic is allowed to move over-sized loads down public highways, in the dark, without having adequate lighting letting you know how wide the load is.”
Council agreed that there should be some form of consistency with wide-load vehicles and pilot cars, and voted in favour of writing the letter on behalf of council concerning pilot car regulations.