Montreal Gazette: If you find yourself on the side of a highway, stay in your car

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highway safety

There is no safe place outside your vehicle, so put the flashers on and wait for help

Montreal Gazette


If you are on the shoulder of the highway, stay in your car.

Another man has died on the side of one of Canada’s busiest highways, just a few weeks after a young woman suffered the same fate. In the first case, the driver’s vehicle had become disabled. In the second, the driver had been involved in a collision. Both left the safety of their vehicles and were struck and died as a result.

Every place in Canada and the U.S. has some form of a “pull over” law on the books: if you are approaching emergency vehicles with their lights on, you must slow down and give them a clear lane. Serious crashes continue to injure and kill first responders performing their incredibly dangerous jobs. So imagine how little protection you have in the same situation, without flashing emergency lights, reflective uniforms and multiple vehicles standing guard.

If you’re experiencing mechanical trouble or have been involved in a collision, put on your vehicle’s four-way flashers and safely make your way to the shoulder of the roadway. Take your car as far as you can to the right. If you need to switch drivers, use the restroom, make a phone call or find that Reese’s Peanut Butter cup that rolled under the seat, find the next exit. Don’t stop on the shoulder of a major highway unless you have absolutely no other choice.

Call for help — from either the police or CAA — and then wait. Don’t get out of your vehicle. There is no safe place to be on the outside of your car.

If for some reason you must leave your car, exit from the non-traffic side, and only if you have somewhere far from the roadway you can get to safely, and immediately.

The safest place for you is inside the vehicle, with its crumple zones, airbags and seatbelts — yes, leave those on.

Put the four-way flashers and your interior dome light on for more illumination. When help arrives, stay in your car until you’ve seen identification — you are vulnerable in more ways than one — and are given further direction.

On the flip side, if I see someone in need of assistance, it’s far safer for me to call for help for that stranded driver than to stop and offer it myself. Sad sign of the times? Maybe. But if I can get appropriate help directed to that person quickly, it’s the best option for everyone.

If you don’t have a cellphone, then carry a sign you can put in your window that says “please call for help.” Practice knowing where you are, so you can direct help to your location. Take note of exits and landmarks. If you’re in a more remote area, remember that it will be easier to find your car than to find you — so stay in your car. Walking down the side of a dark highway isn’t safe; I’d rather lock down my car and stay put until morning, if need be.

Lastly, reserve judgment on those who do the wrong thing or make an unfortunate decision. It’s one thing to declare what you would do in an emergency, but in the moment it is far different. If you’ve been in even a minor collision, you might very well be in shock. If you’re sitting in a car that suddenly seized up on you, you’re going to be upset. Polarizing emotions often lead to bad decisions.

Talk to those close to you about what to do should they find themselves in this situation. Practice it with your driving-age kids. As you pull out onto even a minor highway from a rest stop, register how fast those cars are whipping by, and realize on major routes they’ll be going even faster.

Let the pros come and rescue you. It’s a dangerous job they’re trained to do, and they have the tools to do it, and the visibility to reduce the risk.

Stay in your car.

Suburban exclusive: Quebec in process of changing French-only highway signs to pictograms: Fortin

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Very proud of my friends and colleagues Ruth Kovac, Harold Staviss and David Birnbaum on this important step forward. My readers will recall my many posts and communications with various ministries and agencies of the Quebec government, as well as the city of Montreal (notably the Fire Department) demanding that messages pertaining to public safety be in both French and English, as permitted by the oppressive and dreaded Charter of the French language. Many of these communiques received a polite we’ll look into it with little action or follow up.

The case of the highway road signs proclaiming completely unintelligible warning messages to any non-French-speaker were particularly unjust and illogical. Search my blog for these posts and pictures.

Well, thanks to perseverance and determination of Ruth and Harold they pushed and hounded, and engaged the assistance of our duty-bound MNA, David. The result is favourable in terms of agreeing to pictograms, unfortunately not bilingual signs, but the work is still to be done by the ministry. We’ll continue to follow this important dossier and hold the next government to account and press forward until this gets done in the name of public safety!

Suburban exclusive: Quebec in process of changing French-only highway signs to pictograms: Fortin

Suburban exclusive: Quebec in process of changing French-only highway signs to pictograms: Fortin
From left, D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum, Hampstead lawyer Harold Staviss, CSL councillor Ruth Kovac and Transport Minister André Fortin at a recent meeting.

Transports Quebec is in the process of changing French-only directive highway signs to pictograms, and will gradually also do so on electronic message boards, provincial Transport Minister André Fortin told The Suburban Saturday.

The changeover is coming about following a 7,000-name National Assembly petition, created by Hampstead lawyer Harold Staviss and Cote St. Luc councillor Ruth Kovac and sponsored by D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum, which sought bilingual traffic signage dealing with health and public safety. Last year, we reported that Transports Quebec committed to more and better pictograms.

Fortin praised the petition, and pointed out that he recently met with Staviss and Kovac along with Birnbaum.

“In terms of using more pictograms and to make sure highway signs are understood by everybody who uses the roads, there’s a couple of things we have developed,” Fortin said. “It’s important to know that we already use more pictograms on Quebec roads than anywhere else in Canada, but obviously we can go further.”

Some examples already addressed include signs indicating thaw following the winter season, and uneven pavement.

“And there are others that are in the course of being replaced,” Fortin said, including some addressed in the petition such as “incident voie droite bloquée” (right lane blocked because of incident) and “risque d’aquaplanage” (risk of hydroplaning). “So to make our roads safer and make sure everyone understands the warnings, we are moving to using more pictograms.”

Another aspect of the petition was electronic message boards warning of accidents and incidents, and providing directives.

“A lot of them are first-generation message boards and they don’t necessarily allow for the use of pictograms,” Fortin explained. “With the newer boards, the technology is better and it enables us to use less words and more pictograms. We’re changing a lot of these message boards right now to use more pictograms.”

The Minister also pointed out that, as the petition addressed, sometimes there are too many words on the message boards, “and we agree with that.

“We certainly don’t want our message boards to be an added distraction to drivers, so we’ve already given a directive to the various regional sections of the ministry  to leave the boards blank if there’s no particular information of value.

Staviss and Kovac were very happy.

“We are ecstatic with the news that the traffic signage and message boards on Quebec roads dealing with health and public safety are in the midst of being replaced by symbols or pictographs,” they said in an e-mail to The Suburban. “It is welcoming to know that such public safety signage as Dégel shall be replaced by pictographs, which most certainly will be more clearly understood by motorists using our Quebec roads.

“As we have said since the launching of our petition in early December 2016, the change has nothing to do with language, it has all to do with everyone’s health and safety,” they added. “Kudos and many thanks to David Birnbaum, the MNA for the riding of D’Arcy McGee who deposited our petition in the Quebec National Assembly on March 14, 2017, to André Fortin, our Minister of Transport and the MNA for the riding of Pontiac for considering and implementing our petition and someone who gets it, as well as to Elisabeth Prass (Bureau Chief and Political Attaché to Birnbaum) and Caroline Des Rosiers (Press Secretary/Attaché responsible for the file and Political Advisor) for their input. It goes without saying that we are excited and overjoyed that our petition really made a difference. It sometimes pays to stand up for what one truly believes will make a positive change.”

Birnbaum praised Staviss and Kovac, and those who signed the petition, “which I was pleased to present in the National Assembly. And, frankly, I commend The Suburban for having kept this issue in the news.

“I’m really encouraged that my colleague, Minister Fortin, has taken concrete and prompt action to respond. We’re talking safety and security, for all Quebecers and for all visitors to the province. André has spelled out specific measures to replace unilingual wording with easily understandable pictograms on key road and traffic signs and on electronic billboards. Furthermore, he’s given instructions to have those changes implemented promptly.”

French-only warning signs dangerous: Letter to the editor

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Published in the Montreal Gazette, March 16, 2018
These French-only warning signs are actually dangerous for highway motorists not proficient in the French language. When approaching these massive electronic billboards and not immediately recognizing ominous words like “cahouteuse” or “aquaplanage” Without mastery of French you wouldn’t know whether to pull off the road or to call 911 for an urgent translation! I’ve made numerous demands for bilingual warnings and their inaction speaks volumes, in any language. They don’t care if you don’t understand.
Glenn J. Nashen
Cote Saint-Luc


In reference to:

Opinion: Meaning of Quebec highway signs should be clear to all

A year after National Assembly petition, provincial government still has not responded to safety concerns.

Suburban exclusive: Quebec commits to more, better pictograms on highways

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Suburban exclusive: Quebec commits to more, better pictograms on highways

The Quebec Ministers of Transport and Culture and Communications have committed in writing to placing more and better safety-related pictograms on highways, Côte St. Luc councillor Ruth Kovac told The Suburban Monday.

The commitment by ministers Laurent Lessard and Luc Fortin respectively was the province’s response to a nearly 7,000-name National Assembly petition, created by Hampstead lawyer Harold Staviss and Kovac and sponsored by D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum, calling on Quebec to install bilingual traffic safety signs, as allowed by the province’s language law.

The news of the commitment came during a meeting Kovac had Friday with Birnbaum.

“It took 40 years to get the ministries to acknowledge that our road signs could be better,” Kovac said. “They said, ‘let’s do the best pictograms we can,’ which I have no issue with. First and foremost, it’s always about road safety.

“So if they’re going to make an effort to put up more and better pictograms, so be it. The [ministries] have acknowledged through David that if they don’t have existing pictograms, they will go to a senior engineer to work to make better pictograms, or create one.”

She added that pictograms could be attempted on electronic billboards that warn of safety issues happening at certain times.

Kovac said Quebec’s commitment fell short of allowing English on traffic safety signs if no suitable pictogram exists.

“We just didn’t cross the finish line,” she said. “But for 40 years we’ve been trying, and in the last six months and with David’s presentation, 7,000 people managed to get an affirmation that our road signs can be better. It’s a very positive step in a good direction. Does it fall a little short? Yes. But I know things work incrementally. I see, in a short period of time, reasonableness has prevailed, but they just didn’t put in writing they would go that next step [of adding English to the road signs]…. That’s still a question mark. I think we’re 99 percent there.”

Kovac thinks Quebec did not go the extra step of committing to add English if no pictograms exist, to avoid reopening the language debate, even though the law allows English on those signs.

The councillor added that she and Staviss will be taking photographs of signs they have complained about over time, and will point out whether or not they have been changed.

“Now we’ll be sign inspectors for free!” she joked. “I also have visitors coming from the U.S. in a couple of weeks, and I will ask them to take pictures or note any signs that they really don’t understand.

‘Did we make progress? Am I pleased? Yes.”

Birnbaum commended Staviss and Kovac for their efforts, the community for its response on the petition as well as The Suburban for focusing on the issue.

“Their petition hasn’t been a dead letter,” the MNA said. “They got some meaningful progress. The directive obviously acknowledges that Harold and Ruth got it right — the law is clear on what’s possible. And the directive that has been given notes that there are some situations where pictograms can be used and are not being used right now, and the directive suggests that be changed.”

Birnbaum also confirmed that the directive also says that when a pictogram doesn’t exist at the moment, regional authorities are asked to communicate with the operations department of the Transport ministry “to try and develop one.

“It’s a start,” the MNA said.

Adding English would make us all safer

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Free Press, Letters, Feb. 14, 2017

As we all know, all traffic signs on Quebec highways are solely in French. When driving, do you know what «Respectez les feux de voies», «Risque d’aquaplanage», «Dégel», «Ralentir», «Allumez vos phares», «Voie cahoteuse» and «Incident voie droite bloquée» mean?

Are you aware that according to the Charter of the French Language, the French inscription on traffic signs may be complemented or replaced by symbols or pictographs, and another language may be used where no symbol or pictograph exists? Seeing that the aforementioned phrases have to deal with one’s safety, why are they not in English as well, as the charter clearly provides?

It absolutely makes no sense whatsoever that the protection of the French language is more important than one’s safety. Shouldn’t the safety of everyone, whether French speaking or English speaking, be of prime importance? That is precisely why Ruth Kovac and I presented a petition to the provincial legislature through our legislator David Birnbaum.

Time is running out. The deadline of March 2 to sign the petition is fast approaching.

If you have already signed the petition, we thank you. If you have not signed, please do so. However, in all instances, please make sure that you share this with your family, friends, acquaintances, neighbours and your neighbours’ friends. Share on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

The petition can be found at:

Numbers do speak volumes and volumes can bring about change. The petition has nothing to do with language; it has everything to do with safety.

Ruth Kovac, Côte St. Luc

Harold Staviss, Hampstead

Language control sends a dangerous message

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Traffic control-centre brought up to speed, Gazette, September 2, 2015

Letter to the editor, Montreal Gazette

While Transport Quebec is investing $11 million in upgrading technology to ensure safety on the highways, one million English-speaking Quebecers and many more visitors should be very concerned that absolutely no attention is being given to inform highway users of safety concerns in their own language.

The fact that the Quebec Transport Department has installed massive electronic safety panels in the first place speaks to the need to inform motorists of serious issues ahead. The very nature of these messages is to alert, to warn, to safeguard motorists and passengers.

That Quebec would expressly restrict such messages to French only speaks volumes of its intolerance of the English language and its disregard of English-speaking people, be they Quebecers or from elsewhere. This is totally unacceptable especially since Bill 101 allows for the use of English when it comes to public safety.

Traffic isn’t the only thing Quebec is controlling in this high-tech centre. Language is being tightly controlled as well and this sends a dangerous message.


Transport Quebec restricting bilingual safety signs to border areas

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Suburban | July 1, 2015 | Click to enlarge

Suburban | June 24, 2015 | Click to enlarge

Any citizen of a free and democratic country should be outraged that its government would play with the safety of its population and its visitors for political purposes like this.

The fact that the Quebec Ministry of Transport has installed these electronic safety panels in the first place speaks to the need to inform motorists of serious issues ahead, on the road. The very nature of these messages is to alert, to warn, to safeguard motorists and passengers.

That Quebec would expressly restrict such messages to a single language speaks volumes of its intolerance of the English language and its contempt and disregard of English-speaking people, be they Quebecers or from elsewhere. This is totally unacceptable.

Join me in calling upon our government, through your MNA, to change this dangerous and discriminatory policy. I call upon my MNA, David Birnbaum, a principled man of goodwill, to speak with his colleagues in government, and to help them to see the serious error in this dangerous policy.

Pushing for bilingual highway safety signs


The Suburban, Jan. 7, 2015

Harold Staviss is keeping up the fight to have bilingual highway safety signage in Quebec, rejecting the transport department’s argument that the signs have nothing to do with health or public security and thus do not require English under the law.
“Don’t such words or phrases as ‘cahouteuse’ (bumpy road), ‘degel’ (thawing), ‘ralenti’ (slow down), ‘securité’, ‘incident voie droite bloquée’ (right lane blocked because of incident), the requirement of installing winter tires prior to Dec. 15  and/or important alerts for construction, which appear on the electronic signage in French only, have to deal with public safety?” Staviss wrote to the department. “These words/phrases on the electronic signage from time to time have everything to do with public safety messages and should most definitely be in both the French and English languages, the whole as provided for under the relevant provisions of the Charter of the French Language… In any event, if there appears to be some doubt, wouldn’t it make more sense and be more logical to err on the side of safety and have them in both of the aforementioned languages?”


Quebec not budging on English for public safety signs

In my opinion: Thank you Harold for continuing to press the transport department on their misguided application of the overly restrictive language laws.

The large panels placed strategically by Transport Quebec are there for one reason only: To provide safety alerts to motorists. For them to argue that these messages do not constitute public safety information is completely dishonest and downright dangerous.

D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum must also take up the cause and push for bilingual communications in public safety from various Quebec departments as permitted under the law.


Quebec not budging on English for public safety signs


By Joel Goldenberg

The Suburban, November 5th, 2014

This is the latest in a series of articles looking at stores and companies and their language policies in areas with majority and significant anglophone populations, as documented by Hampstead’s Harold Staviss and Côte St. Luc’s Ruth Kovac.

Quebec will not budge on the inclusion of English on road signs dealing with public safety, despite the allowance of its inclusion according to the province’s language laws, an e-mail from Quebec’s transport department indicates.

Staviss recently wrote to the complaints department of Transport Quebec about the lack of English on safety signs, pointing out the importance of those signs for all Quebecers.

Staviss also cited Article 22 in the Charter of the French Language, which states that “the civil administration shall use only French in signs and posters, except where reasons of health or public safety require the use of another language as well.”

“I’m wondering why Transport Quebec isn’t taking this rule into account so that all public safety displays are in French and English,” Staviss wrote.

Days later, Staviss received a reply from Catherine Boutin of the transport ministry, which further cited article 22 as stating that “in the case of traffic signs, the French inscription may be complemented or replaced by symbols or pictographs, and another language may be used where no symbol or pictograph exists that satisfies the requirements of health or public safety.”

“As we are aware of the linguistic diversity of those who use our roads, the department primarily uses symbols and pictograms, according to Quebec standards but also taking into account international norms,” Boutin wrote. “The road signs are thus understandable to everyone.

“The department also uses messages on electronic panels to disseminate real-time messages to help drivers decide on their routes and for general road safety recommendations,” her e-mail added. “These messages do not apply to public health or safety and are therefore only in French.”

Boutin also wrote that the ministry uses fixed signs, not the electronic type, during road safety awareness campaigns.

“Because of the nature of the messages conveyed, French signage is recommended. The ministry also broadcasts English messages in the media, if the language of the broadcaster is not French, ensuring that all road users are adequately informed.”

Kovac recommended that a copy of the transport ministry response be sent to the ministers of transport and public safety.
Staviss said a comment from Côte St. Luc Councillor Glenn Nashen, who has also been calling for English on highway safety signs, reflects his own view as well.

Nashen said in an e–mail to Staviss that he is “completely” dissatisfied with the answer from the ministry.

“Looking just at the electronic signage they’ve installed around the province, they say that this information is not linked to public safety or health and therefore is in French only,” Nashen wrote. “Nonsense. The best example is that signs say ‘cahouteuse’ (rough road) from time to time as a warning or message indicating danger. I would challenge the ministry to poll how many English-speakers would know what this word even means. It is clearly a message of public safety.

“Also, there are warnings concerning periods of ‘degel” or thaw, messages for staying alert and awake, for DUI and the like. These are all public safety messages and it is completely unacceptable for the ministry not to present these messages in English as well as French. Additionally, these panels flash information about accidents up ahead, about important alerts for construction on roads and bridges. It is illogical and nonsensical not to post these messages in both languages.”

Nashen recommended that Staviss send a copy of the ministry’s e-mail response to D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum.


Staviss and Kovac’s e-mail address, — is “for anyone who is interested in getting involved to encourage merchants, retailers and the like to post English signage or more English signage.”


Move Over Law now the rule of the road in Quebec

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Quebec’s new Move Over law takes effect today.  Not abiding by this very important regulation will cost you, both in dollars and demerits.  Rest assured that Police will be looking out for infractions as this law is aimed specifically at making them, and their fellow first responders, much safer on the road.

I first heard of this law a few months ago when I learned of a Montrealer who was nabbed in upstate New York and handed a hefty fine.  I thought it had great merit and began blogging about it only to find out that a young paramedic from the Eastern Townships had started an online petition.  Fast forward only a couple of months and this new law was created.

So drive carefully, especially when passing emergency vehicles.

Read more:

Quebec drivers will have to move over for emergency vehicles on the highway

Read more:

Quebec Police Force wants you to be safe this summer

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This is an excellent video production and the SQ is to be congratulated. However,  unfortunately, the video is not in English too for the benefit of the hundreds of thousands of Quebecers who speak English and for the millions of tourists that Quebec hopes to attract each year.

Il s’agit d’une production du vidéo excellente et la SQ doit être félicité. Cependant, malheureusement, la vidéo n’est pas en anglais aussi pour le bénéfice des centaines de milliers de Québécois qui parlent l’anglais et pour les millions de touristes que le Québec espère attirer chaque année.

Ever hear of a “Move Over” law? This tip can save you time and money.

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Ever hear of a “Move Over” law?  Well you better take note because you may soon be stopped for failing to move over and it’ll cost you dearly.

Recently I heard of a Montrealer who was stopped on a New York State highway and given a ticket costing several hundred dollars and a mandatory court appearance.  The reason?  She failed to move over to the left lane while passing a State Trooper who was stopped in the break down lane.

After doing some simple research I quickly learned that many US states have so-called “Move Over” laws, enacted as a result of the significant number of police injuries and deaths on US highways, having been struck by oncoming vehicles.

I asked several friends and neighbours if they had ever heard of such a law and not one was familiar with “Move Over”.   You’d think with such a serious potential to strike an officer that such laws, only passed in the last couple of years, would be widely publicized on roadside billboards.

Two weeks ago, returning by car from Boston, I stopped in a Vermont rest stop and found the flyer just below.  It explains it in clear and basic terms.

It seems that interest is growing for such a law on Quebec highways, as evidenced in yesterday’s Granby  Express and tweeted by the Montreal Gazette’s reporter Andy Riga.  A petition is now  circulating, with some 8000 signatures, calling on the Quebec National Assembly to enact a made-in-Quebec “Move Over” law.

Hats off to Chambly Paramedic Patrick Dufresne for launching this petition.  Anything that can be done to reduce the risk to police officers, ambulance technicians and highway crews is well worth consideration.  I’ll be signing this petition and I encourage you to do so too by forwarding this blog post widely.  What do you think?  Do you agree with such a law?  Click Leave a Comment now and share your opinion.