Does summertime music from your car radio mesh well with a jackhammer beat? Could this be because jack hammering is such a common auditory background for summer driving? Summer is road construction season and summer 2003 is no exception. Check out www.city.vancouver.bc.ca and select the menu item “road construction" for an impressive list of all such current activities in the City of Vancouver. Other municipalities in the lower mainland also list current roadwork projects on their websites.
Road construction tears up the road surface, produces dust and dirt, interrupts utility service, delays traffic, and forces detours. The City says that the drier weather makes the work faster and less expensive thereby providing taxpayers good value for their dollar. It says that fewer drivers are affected because traffic volumes are generally lower in the summer months. These are strong defenses. They do not, however, change the fact that drivers remaining in the city, stuck in hot summer traffic must be, because of this temporary hazard, more vigilant, careful and patient. And the law requires it.
Starting in section 138, the British Columbia Motor Vehicle Act, (the MVA) requires traffic control devices on roads where construction is being carried out to indicate that persons or equipment are working on the highway. A “traffic control device" is a sign, signal, line, meter, marking, space, barrier or device, placed or erected by the authority of the Minister of Transportation and Highways or the council of a municipality. Court decisions on this section have expanded the definition of traffic control device to include painted traffic islands. Section 139 goes on to specify the contents of this signage: it must set speed limits in the construction zone or restrict where and how to drive through or detour around the zone. A 1992 British Columbia Court of Appeal decision decided that a construction zone continues from the placing of the first sign until there is a sign indicating that the zone has ended, or a point is reached at which a driver can reasonably say “That is the end of the area in which construction is taking place." As soon as the construction work is completed and the signage is no longer needed, it must be taken down (s. 142).
Section 140 is the specific provision that creates the duty of increased vigilance for all drivers. It says that drivers must obey this road construction signage and they must obey a flagger if there is one controlling the movements of traffic around the section of the roadway being worked on (s. 141). If the police should be needed to direct traffic around such a project, obedience to their directions is required by section 123 of the Act. If traffic lights are out because of the construction, all vehicles must stop at the intersection and yield the right of way to the driver on their right or to the driver who has first entered the intersection.
“Wet Paint" signage is also important in connection with road construction work. Under section 143 of the MVA, if signage indicates that road markings are newly painted, drivers must not driver over these newly painted markings. It is an offence to do so.
In Section 121, the MVA also addresses the manner in which vehicles involved in road construction work must be driven. Despite being exempted from the “normal" rules of the road while engaged in construction or maintenance work, they must nevertheless be driven with due regard for safety having regard to all the circumstances including the nature, condition, and use of the road and the amount of traffic on it.
When you hear jack hammering ahead, watch for orange, diamond-shaped signs, and orange plastic road cones or anchored poles. This is the standard look of road construction signage. It’s hard to miss (although some do!) especially if you are properly scanning well ahead for hazards, scanning from one side of the road to the other and glancing regularly in the rear and side-view mirrors to keep track of what is happening around you. If you keep up this observation cycle all the time you are driving, you will be certain not to miss the various forms taken and messages conveyed by construction signage.
When you are alerted to road construction ahead, slow down and prepare to merge or stop. Stop-and-go traffic requires thoughtful, alert driving to avoid a collision with the car in front of you. Too often we worry that someone will cut in front of us. If a few cars insist on cutting in front of you, let them. But don’t wholly forget about them. The more common problem is forgetting about the vehicle directly in front and rear-ending it while looking in the rearview mirror or daydreaming. Leave plenty of room between your car and the one directly in front of you.
Cedric Hughes of Hughes and Company Law Corporation with contributions from Leslie McGuffin, LL.