The law changed on September 1, 2023 for how drivers pass stopped vehicles with flashing lights and moving snowplows, though the changes are not as robust as once promised.
EDITOR’S NOTE CPLEA originally published this article on August 23, 2023. It incorrectly described the current law. Instead, the original article described the law as it would have been if the Traffic Safety Amendment Act 2022 had come into force.
On September 1, 2023, the law changed for drivers passing stopped vehicles with flashing lights and for passing moving snowplows. You’ve probably seen a billboard like the one above telling you to “Slow down. Move over.”
The goal of these changes is to protect the safety of roadside workers on Alberta roads.
Before we dive into the changes, a few important definitions:
- A flashing light, or flashing lamp, includes a stationary or rotating flashing lamp, strobe lamp or 360-degree warning lamp. A flashing light does not include a signal light or hazard lights.
- A highway is any roadway, street, avenue, etc. The definition of highway in the Traffic Safety Act is likely different than how you might think of the word as referring only to a roadway connecting cities!
How to pass a stopped vehicle with flashing lights
The ‘slow down, move over’ rules apply to drivers passing a stopped vehicle with flashing lights, including emergency vehicles, tow trucks and maintenance vehicles.
These rules do not apply in construction zones with a lower speed limit already posted or when you are passing a stopped school bus.
First, you must slow down.
The maximum speed you can drive while passing immediately beside a stopped vehicle with flashing lights is 60km/h. If the posted speed limit is lower than 60km/h, you must not drive faster than the posted speed limit. The slowdown rule only applies if you are driving in the lane right beside the stopped vehicle. The slowdown rule does not apply if there is a lane between you and the stopped vehicle.
For example, you are driving on the Anthony Henday where the posted speed limit is 100km/h. You must slow down to 60km/h if you are in the outside lane and a maintenance vehicle with its lights on is stopped on the outside shoulder.
Then you should try to move over.
If there is another lane going the same direction that you can safely move into, then you must not drive in the lane occupied (wholly or in part) by the stopped vehicle nor drive in the lane beside the stopped vehicle. Drivers in the further lane must also give you space to move over.
For example, you are driving on the Queen Elizabeth II Highway and a peace officer has a vehicle pulled over on the right-hand shoulder of the road. You should not drive in the farthest right lane if you can safely move over one lane to the left. You can drive the posted speed limit once you move over.
The penalties for not obeying the law?
- For passing a stopped vehicle with flashing lights and not moving over, a $243 fine and three demerits.
- For not taking reasonable steps to allow a vehicle to move into the further traffic lane, a$243 fine and three demerits.
- For not slowing down to 60km/h when passing a stopped vehicle with its lights flashing, a fine ranging from $163 (for going 1km/h over the speed limit) to $991 (for going 50km/h over the speed limit). The number of demerits, ranging from two to four, also depends on your speed. If you are going more than 50km/h over the lowered speed limit, you lose six demerits and must go to court.
How to pass a moving snowplow
You must not pass or try to pass a moving snowplow when:
- you cannot see clearly along the side of the snowplow,
- passing the snowplow would affect the snowplow’s operation, or
- you cannot safely pass the snowplow.
The penalty? A $324 fine and three demerits.
Commentary on how the changes came to be
Buckle up because how these changes came to be is not a smooth ride.
In March 2022, the Alberta Legislature passed the Traffic Safety Amendment Act, 2022 (Bill 5). It received royal assent on April 21, 2022.
Bill 5 was set to expand the rules for slowing down to 60km/h to include all vehicles with flashing lights. It also required drivers in all lanes travelling in the same direction to slow down, not just the lane nearest the stopped vehicle. And it required drivers going the opposite direction on a two-lane road to also slow down.
On June 15, 2022, the Lieutenant Governor proclaimed the Traffic Safety Amendment Act, 2022 would come into force on March 1, 2023.
Also on June 15, 2022, the Lieutenant Governor issued Orders in Council to change regulations to complement changes to the Traffic Safety Act. The Use of Highway and Rules of the Road Regulation was changing to add rules for moving over when passing a stopped vehicle with flashing lights and for passing snow plows. Schedule 1 of the Demerit Point Program and Service of Documents Regulation was changing to add a penalty of three demerits for not moving over, not allowing another vehicle to move over and improperly passing a snowplow under the Use of Highway and Rules of the Road Regulation.
On September 16, 2022, changes to the Procedures Regulation under the Provincial Offences Procedure Act were announced. Added were a fine for not moving over or not allowing a vehicle to move over, as well as a fine for improperly passing a snowplow.
The legislative framework was in place! Changes to the Traffic Safety Act and three regulations would take effect on March 1, 2023.
The day before launch, the Lieutenant Governor rescinded the earlier proclamation. The Traffic Safety Amendment Act, 2022 would no longer become law on March 1, 2023.
Also on February 28, 2023, changes to the Procedures Regulation and the Use of Highway and Rules of the Road Regulation were delayed to come into force to when the Traffic Safety Amendment Act, 2022 came into force.
It appeared September 1, 2023 would be the new launch day, giving the government time to carry out a “robust education campaign”.
Then things changed again come August when the Government decided to do away with Bill 5. The given reason? Consultations with Albertans and making sure the rule is easy to understand.
With no changes to the Traffic Safety Act itself coming, the Government created the new rules through a patchwork of regulation changes. The Government announced these changes on August 8, 2023, with related Orders in Council dated August 2, 2023 and continuing throughout the month.
Previously announced changes to the Procedures Regulation, the Use of Highway and Rules of the Road Regulation and the Demerit Point Program and Service of Documents Regulation would come into force on September 1, 2023. The Use of Highway and Rules of the Road Regulation would also now include a definition of “flashing lamp”. The Vehicle Equipment Regulation would designate vehicles with flashing lights as emergency vehicles for the purpose of section 115(2)(t) of the Traffic Safety Act (the existing slow down rule that only applied when passing emergency vehicles and tow trucks).
The new “slow down, move over” rules came to be law without making any changes to the Traffic Safety Act itself. (Which would have been impossible since the legislature adjourned on March 23, 2023 until October 30, 2023.)
Response from transportation stakeholders
The law we ended up with compared to the law we thought we would get 18 months ago has faced criticism from transportation stakeholders. While grateful for extending the slow down rules to all vehicles with flashing lights, critics say the new law does not provide the same protections as originally planned.
The original changes would have required all drivers travelling in the same direction as the stopped vehicle to slow down. On a two-lane road with one lane going in each direction, drivers travelling in the opposite direction of the stopped vehicle would have also had to slow down. The result of engagement with the public and stakeholders, the original law would have brought Alberta “in line with the three other western provinces.”
The Alberta Motor Association said the current law is “not as robust as it actually could be” and that there is “disappointment among [their] operators.” The Towing and Recovery Association of Alberta said the “partial change is only going to crate unsafe scenarios for motorists that are moving over as required by law to be potentially struck by a motorist traveling highway speeds 100km/h or higher in the adjacent lane.”
The big question is … will these rules achieve the goal of safety for roadside workers?
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DISCLAIMER The information in this article was correct at time of publishing. The law may have changed since then. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LawNow or the Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta.