Try­ing to read the signs

The Southern Gazette - - Editorial - Rus­sell Wanger­sky Rus­sell Wanger­sky’s col­umn ap­pears in 39 SaltWire news­pa­pers and web­sites in At­lantic Canada. He can be reached at rus­sell.wanger­sky@thetele­ — Twit­ter: @wanger­sky.

What I also know is that signs for phantom con­struc­tion work doesn’t make things one bit safer for con­struc­tions work­ers. In fact, it makes things more dangerous.

I’ve seen them in pretty much ev­ery At­lantic prov­ince: the warn­ings put out for that most scarce of things, the non-ex­is­tent high­way worker.

Now, I know that work­ing on traf­fic-filled highways is a har­row­ing job; work­ers are reg­u­larly in­jured and even killed on the job by care­less, speed­ing or dis­tracted driv­ers. It’s such a prob­lem that some ju­ris­dic­tions put up signs with pho­tos of work­ers on them, iden­ti­fy­ing them as “Ja­son’s Dad” or “Kevin’s Mom” in an ef­fort to per­son­al­ize the peo­ple who are tak­ing the risks.

It’s also why there are of­ten sharply in­creased fines for speed­ing in con­struc­tion zones, and why “Move Over” leg­is­la­tion is needed to both slow ve­hi­cles down and to keep them away from peo­ple who are work­ing or pro­vid­ing emer­gency ser­vices.

(If you can find one sin­gle tow-truck driver any­where in the At­lantic prov­inces who hasn’t had a close call with a dangerous driver, no mat­ter how well lit up his or her tow truck is, I’d be amazed.)

But aware­ness, like al­most any road, is a two-way street.

Not long ago, trav­el­ling from Truro to the Hal­i­fax air­port, I came across a well-estab­lished set of warn­ings for a con­struc­tion site. It was on the di­vided high­way, and, on both sides of the road, there were or­ange warn­ing signs that con­struc­tion was com­ing, fol­lowed by warn­ings about re­duced speeds be­ing strictly en­forced, fol­lowed by signs that showed what the re­duced speed would be, and fi­nally, signs an­nounc­ing the be­gin­ning of con­struc­tion.

Ex­cept the an­tic­i­pated con­struc­tion wasn’t there. It wasn’t any­where. Maybe it was be­cause it was on the week­end, or maybe be­cause I was trav­el­ling so early in the morn­ing. It doesn’t mat­ter — what mat­ters is that I was be­ing asked to be ex­tra-vig­i­lant, aware and pre­pared for some­thing that didn’t ex­ist.

By the time I’d passed the last set of signs, other cars were whip­ping by me. I do know that, for Nova Sco­tia at least, the signs are the ap­pli­ca­ble traf­fic speed even if there’s no con­struc­tion, the ar­gu­ment be­ing that there ei­ther might be un­seen work­ers, or that the road just isn’t safe for higher speeds.

What I also know is that signs for phantom con­struc­tion work doesn’t make things one bit safer for con­struc­tions work­ers. In fact, it makes things more dangerous.

A let­ter to the ed­i­tor in the St. John’s Tele­gram pointed out the dan­gers last week: af­ter pass­ing a set of high­way signs warn­ing about the start of a con­struc­tion zone, he started his trip odome­ter, and waited for the con­struc­tion to ap­pear — it did fi­nally turn up, 15.5 kilo­me­ters be­yond the last sign. On Tues­day, a Twit­ter user snapped a series of pho­to­graphs of a New­found­land high­way that was all dressed up with con­struc­tion signs, but with noth­ing on the go.

I’ve seen it in P.E.I., and I’ve seen it in New Brunswick. I’ve also sign crews in pick­ups trucks on a va­ri­ety of highways turn­ing signs around or lay­ing them face down at the end of the work day.

Each of the At­lantic prov­inces has their own, very pre­cise reg­u­la­tions for high­way signs – the style they have to be, the colours that have to be used, the shapes of some signs. But what there also has to be is very pre­cise rules about con­struc­tions signs — how close to con­struc­tion they have to be placed and when they have to put left up or taken down. Those same rules have to be en­forced.

Sev­eral pro­vin­cial trans­porta­tion de­part­ments warn that the high­est risk in con­struc­tion zones is from ve­hi­cles mov­ing at dif­fer­ent speeds. If you be­lieve the signs, and oth­ers (per­haps le­git­i­mately) don’t, dangerous vari­a­tions in speed is ex­actly what you are cre­at­ing.

Let’s have some un­com­mon com­mon sense here.

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