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Driving tips

Are risky moves allowed when avoiding a crash scene?

The short answer is 'no' — and so is the long one

Published October 11, 2013
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Q: A major collision closed down all northbound lanes on the highway, leaving motorists behind the mess trapped with nowhere to go.

Police, who were busy attending to crash victims, paid no mind as others around me drove the wrong way on the shoulder and exited the highway going the wrong way up an on-ramp.

Surely, this must be illegal, but what were we all supposed to do? It could have been hours before it was cleared.

A: The Highway Traffic Act prohibits driving the wrong way on a divided highway, as well as backing up on a highway (except to assist a motorist in an emergency), and driving off the roadway (i.e. onto the grass median or the land beyond the paved shoulder).

Additionally, drivers who manage to get around police barricades or pylons and attempt to continue onward could be charged with “driving on a closed highway.”

Don’t do this. Traffic is often directed off the highway at the off-ramp before the crash. The road ahead might look clear, but the collision — and emergency personnel — could be all over the road just over the next rise.

Stranded motorists acting on their own initiative to go the wrong way on the shoulder to exit the highway could be charged and might endanger oncoming traffic on the on-ramp. Such action might also delay other emergency responders (fire, ambulance) who need to use the shoulder to quickly reach the crash site.

Unfortunately, to fully comply with the law, drivers sometimes have to wait until police have attended to victims, secured the scene and are then able to direct trapped motorists off the highway. Police would assume control of the on-ramp to prevent others from entering the highway before allowing wrong-way traffic to proceed.

Under section 134 of the Highway Traffic Act, drivers do not commit an offence if following the direction of a police officer to do what would normally be an HTA violation (e.g. drive wrong way).

If, however, you take unauthorized, illegal action on your own to exit the highway, charges may apply.

Q: Can I drive on the highway with a temporary “donut” tire?

A: Compact spare tires typically have a stamped maximum speed rating of 80-km/h. Unfortunately, few drivers ever check or fill the spare tire, so it’s typically underinflated — sometimes dangerously so — when needed.

Although it’s not recommended, if you opt to drive on a seriously underinflated spare tire, turn on your hazard lights, drive slowly on the shoulder, and top up the tire at the earliest opportunity.

Re-install a full-size tire as soon as possible. Driving with a compact spare will affect handling during emergency manoeuvres.

Email your non-mechanical questions to Eric Lai at wheels@thestar.ca. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.

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