Posted by: safedriver | July 19, 2012

Construction workers aren’t the law

We all know there are 2 seasons; winter and construction. We’ve all experienced slower traffic flow during construction zones and we’ve needed to make adjustments in our route plans and how we drove through this area. Are there things that we may take for granted while driving through a construction zone that may cause us to crash or perhaps even cause us to get a ticket?

I was recently leaving my sub-division when I came upon a construction area. It was located at an all way stop with the flagman helping traffic. Well, supposedly helping traffic. As I was approaching the stop sign, he waved me to continue well before I had a chance to stop my vehicle. I stopped first before continuing because I was facing a legal requirement of stopping my vehicle before I could enter the intersection. There was also a hidden pathway on my left that I wanted to check to ensure a cyclist or pedestrian wasn’t coming out from there.

The dangerous part of this was the flagman was waving to have me drive through the stop sign. Regardless of the fact that they were holding a stop/slow sign, it was still my responsibility to obey the law and make my own driving decisions. The only person that can safely and legally wave anyone through a stop sign or red light is a police officer.

I remember a time years ago when I was teaching a student from Young Drivers of Canada when we were approaching a traffic light and construction zone. The light was red and the flagman was waving for us to proceed through the intersection. We refused to go and stayed stopped until the light turned green. He started to yell at us to go as we waited but I asked my student to hold their ground. I explained that the construction worked wasn’t the law and the driver could be charged for disobeying the law, especially if there was an incident with another road user.

I also remember a time when the traffic was only able to use one lane, which meant we had to take turns to pass each other. The flagman was distracted and didn’t change their sign back to ‘stop’ from ‘slow’. The problem was the oncoming flagman had their sign to ‘slow’ and oncoming traffic started to move toward us. I’m sure you can imagine how messed up the traffic became as drivers headed toward each other. This shows that the driver has to make the driving decisions.

The other interesting thing about the drive through my sub-division was the opposing flagman was pointing to where I had to drive. Kind of interesting since there was only one place to go since oncoming traffic was blocking any other lane. I really didn’t need their help. The flagman is there to ensure the general public and the construction workers and vehicles can work safely together. They only should be letting know when it’s safe to proceed because of lane closure or if construction vehicles are approaching. They shouldn’t ask you to break the law. That would, of course, be your own choice.

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Responses

  1. In Toronto we used to ALWAYS have a paid police officer on every construction site that was working on/under the street. Most of the time the police would merely hang out because there really wasn’t much to do, and this requirement to always have a police officer on site was deemed a rather big waste of money. In order to save money the city’s rules have been re-written so that flagman can replace police officers in some circumstances.

    You are quite right that we have a serious obligation to operate our vehicle responsibly and safely. The Ontario HTA states this principle of responsibility several times, each time in a different way.

    Just because the light turned green doesn’t mean that it is immediately safe to proceed. We may still have to wait for pedestrians crossing the street to finish before we can proceed, or there may still be other drivers who have rushed the yellow/red light, or who have not noticed (or cared) that the light has changed to red. When the light turns green, we must still re-scan the entire intersection and decide for ourselves if/when it is safe to proceed.

    Even when a police officer (or several) is(are) on point duty at an intersection we, the operators of our vehicles, must still take care to operate our vehicle in a safe manner through these intersections.

    Currently, the limit of the authority of a flagman at a construction site is to temporarily stop traffic. They do this to help traffic alternate when there is only one lane open to share for two-way traffic, as you indicated in your post. Or else they stop traffic to allow the safe movement of heavy equipment on/near a construction site, like trucks entering/leaving a driveway.

    To save money on paid police, there has been much talk about empowering construction flagmen with more authority. Provided that the flagmen are properly trained and tested then I can see this working out OK almost all of the time.

    But we, as the operators of our vehicles, must _always_ be vigilant and do our best to be safe. People — even police and flagmen — can (and do) make mistakes from time to time.

    • Thanks so much for the detailed comments!

  2. I agree — flag persons need better training. Many I have encountered are quite good, aware of traffic and in radio contact with the opposing flagger; but just as many, however, seem as though they drew the short straw.

    While they are legally permitted to stop traffic (only they and firefighters are permitted to use the slow/stop signs), their attention to what’s actually happening is not always what it should be.

    Worse, still, is the random construction worker that waves vehicles around a stopped dump truck or other equipment, without first looking to see if there is oncoming traffic.

  3. Are construction workers authorized representatives of the department of transpiration? Do we have to obey their slow signs? Speed limit signs go as low as 25 mph but slow signs make me nervous about breaking the law by ignoring workers holding signs.


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