Should B.C. drivers be warned before heading into cellphone dead zones on rural highways?

Stretch of highway longest without cell service in B.C.

A northern B.C. district has called on the province to provide better signage along highways that lack cellular service as a way to increase safety for travellers.

The Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine penned a letter earlier this month, during the manhunt for then-fugitives Bryer Schmegelsky and Kam McLeod in connection to the three killings of Chynna Deese, Lucas Fowler and Leonard Dyck.

But the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure said it’s not their responsibility to provide road-side signage informing drivers that Highway 37 does not have cellular service.

The province told the district its “not a cellular provider and would need to exercise caution communicating on behalf of another agency.

READ MORE: Chynna Deese, victim in northern B.C. homicide, remembered as ‘beautiful, free soul’

Their response, in the form of a letter, goes on to say that “many highways and roads across the province do not have cellular coverage and there would be numerous challenges communicating this message with signage across the province.

RDKS director Tina Etzerza, who lives in Dease Lake, says she’s disappointed with the response.

“To see that the letter was written right amongst all of that chaos that was happening here was pretty disheartening,” says Etzerza, noting that many residents along the highway are still fearful and hesitant to help anybody on the side of the road.

The lack of cell service has been brought up repeatedly ever since and is now considered to be a public safety issue with the district. It may take years for cellular companies to service the region, but Etzerza wants to ensure that travellers are prepared for the deadzones in case of an emergency.

“I think a lot of the tourists that we do get who want to experience the wilderness, don’t fully realize what that means. They’re just kind of touring along and that track may take two or three days… it’s just more of a courtesy thing to put that sign up and let people know that it’s a reality.”

READ MORE: New cell service coming to Highway of Tears

At a regular board meeting in May, Etzerza had submitted the recommendation to request signage at the Kitwanga turnoff onto Hwy 37 advising drivers there’s no cell service going north.

However, the ministry says this may only serve to confuse drivers.

Etzerza says the transportation ministry doesn’t entirely understand the gravity of their request, as that highway stretch is believed to be the longest distance with no cell service in B.C.

The distance from Kitwanga, B.C. to Whitehorse, Yukon is approximately 1115 km. The only way to connect is touse landlines or Wi-Fi hotspots available at businesses along the highway, which aren’t always offered totourists due to high costs.

“It’s unprecedented in B.C to drive 1,000 kilometres without cell service so people don’t expect it, they expect the typical sporadic 50 kilometres here and there but not 1,000,” she says.

READ MORE: Northern B.C. homicides unsettle isolated Tahltan village

Etzerza also says the province’s concern of communicating on behalf of cellular providers is not valid reasoning.

“The Ministry of Transportation puts up signs that the next fuel service is 200 kilometres and they don’t sell fuel, they put up signs that say there’s a payphone but they don’t run the payphone,” she says. “Now they don’t want to put up no cellular service signs because they don’t run cell service? It’s not very consistent.”

The ministry says it is open to meet with the regional district and cellular providers to investigate the issue, and the province’s manager that overlooks the region, Carl B. Lutz, is expected to meet with the district in the near future.


 


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