A flag person was struck by a vehicle on Highway 6 in Lavington at 10 a.m. last Friday morning in the Okanagan Valley. (Lisa VanderVelde/Black Press)

Flaggers face dangerous job on the road

Driving habits need to change because injuries and death becoming all too common

Yet another road-side flagger has been struck by a vehicle in B.C.

The latest incident occurred in the Okanagan Valley on Nov. 17 when a driver was apparently travelling too fast in a construction zone and didn’t have time to respond to the flagger’s command to stop.

The 66 year-old flagger was struck and had to be rushed to the hospital with serious injuries.

At least this case seems to have been an accident, unlike another, more nefarious incident, that happened in Burnaby last June.

In that case, the driver of a white Hyundai waiting to merge into a line of traffic at a construction site suddenly accelerated the vehicle despite the woman flagger shouting for her to stop.

The Hyundai then rolled over the flagger’s thigh as the driver appeared to ignore her directions, and then struck a second flagger.

The first flagger was hospitalized with a serious concussion as well as a number of serious compression injuries on her leg and lots of bruising, while the second flagger was not seriously hurt in the incident.

The woman driver, who was in her late 30s, is now facing potential criminal and Motor Vehicle Act charges as a result of her apparent road rage.

“In all my years of police work I’ve never seen anything like this,” Staff Sgt. Major John Buis of the Burnaby RCMP told reporters at the time.

WorkSafeBC’s records indicate that between 2007 and 2016, 15 roadside flaggers were killed and 229 were injured in the province after being struck by vehicles.

I have to wonder just what people are thinking when they are behind the wheel of a two-tonne potential killing machine as they fly down the province’s highways.

When work crews are on the roads carrying out any number of infrastructure projects, they always let drivers know well in advance what they are approaching.

Reduced speed limits are usually posted as drivers approach the construction site, and signs stating that people should expect delays are also typically present.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise when drivers find a flagger with a stop sign standing in front of their vehicle at some point as they drive through the site.

Financial penalties are severe for those caught speeding through construction zones, while instances of road rage can see people put behind bars.

I remember interviewing a roadside flagger a few years ago in Nanaimo after a flagger fatality had occurred in an incident in the Lower Mainland.

She told me stories of many close calls she had experienced during her career as impatient and sometimes infuriated drivers decided not to follow her directions to stop and tried to keep moving ahead anyway.

The flagger said her feet had been run over several times and there were a few instances when she had to actually jump out of the way of oncoming vehicles to avoid getting run over as she tried to stop them.

She was a single mother of two kids and relied heavily on the pay from the job, which is very little despite the risks, to get by, so she had little choice but to put her life on the line every time she went to work.

There would be a lot fewer incidents and accidents involving roadside flaggers if drivers slowed down and gave themselves plenty of time to get where they are going, taking into account delays due to construction sites or accidents.

Drivers should also check their anger issues at the door when they get behind the wheel.

Every time I go through a construction zone on the highway where flaggers are at work, all I have to do is picture the flagger I interviewed and I instantly slow down and follow directions.

Maybe it should be mandatory for new drivers to spend a half hour talking to a flagger before they get their licences.

Robert Barron is a reporter with the Cowichan Valley Citizen. He can be reached at Robert.Barron@cowichanvalleycitizen.com.

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