Close calls on the Calder

Truck drivers, tow-truck drivers and auto electricians are calling for measures to keep them safe when they are pulled over on the side of the freeway attending to breakdowns.
Kyneton auto electrician Jim Matheson and towies Doug Holden and Daniel Vereker have all found themselves perilously close to fast-moving traffic in the limited shoulder space allowed by the new wire rope safety barriers on the Calder Freeway.
They say they need to get the amber lights on their emergency vehicles changed to another colour to indicate to passing drivers that they should slow down, just as they must for other emergency services.
“They’re amber lights and every man and his dog’s got one – old mate down the road on his tractor’s got an orange light,” Doug said.
“We should have a different coloured flashing light, and a rule for that,” Jim said.
When attending to a broken down truck on the side of the freeway two weeks ago, Jim had to park his car behind the truck and a couple of feet onto the laneway to ensure he had an ‘alleyway’ to walk safely up to the cabin and work on the problem.
“I had my vehicle with its revolving light going, it just so happened that the broken down vehicle had lights, and how much effect did that have on the motorists? None.”
Jim points out that the width of the cabin with the driver’s door open can be 3.4 metres, but the barriers sometimes only allow for three metres on the shoulder of the road, so if a truck has to pull over, just opening the driver’s side door can mean you’re already in the way of traffic.
“And where are the fuses in the truck? Just inside the driver’s door, so you’ve got to have the door open to see if you can even get him off the freeway,” he said.
Daniel Vereker from Vereker Bros Smash Repairs was loading a car on the Calder at Carlsruhe about two weeks ago when a truck came within four or five feet of him.
“The truck driver seemed to be distracted with what I was doing and veered towards me rather than away from me, so it was a bit close for comfort,” he said.
Ash Eve of Eve-Trans transport company also had one of his trucks break down on the Calder at Kyneton a week ago.
“The truck is on the white line so you’d have to get out the passenger side if you didn’t have a break in the traffic and didn’t want to put your life at risk,” he said.
Despite the concerns raised by these non-emergency responders, VicRoads said the emergency services road rule was in place only for emergency or enforcement vehicles with flashing red and blue or purple lights to avoid confusion for other drivers.
“Vehicles with yellow lights are not currently covered by the rule as they may perform a range of tasks, including towing,” said Bryan Sherritt, VicRoads’ safe system road infrastructure program director.
“Drivers should always approach any vehicles on the side of the road with caution for the safety of all road users.”
Mr Sherritt said VicRoads’ engineers undertook significant planning to ensure there was enough space for drivers to pull over where they were rolling out flexible safety barriers on the Calder.
“The left-side flexible safety barriers are being installed with a four-metre offset distance in the vast majority of locations to allow room for vehicles to pull over on the road shoulder,” he said.
Funded by the TAC and delivered by VicRoads, the $42 million flexible safety barrier project will see more than 380km of barriers installed on the Calder Freeway between the M80 Ring Road and Bendigo. Works began in early 2017 and are due to be completed in mid-2019.

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