Remembering Tow Operators, the Forgotten First Responder, as Move Over Law Anniversary Looms
This week marks the 25th anniversary of the day paramedic James Garcia was struck by a passing vehicle as he responded to a distress call alongside a two-lane highway near Lexington, South Carolina. In addition to suffering permanent mobility impairment to his left arm and leg, Garcia was – shockingly – considered at fault for the accident. Garcia felt this ruling needed to change.
Two years later, after Garcia’s tireless lobbying efforts, the nation’s first Move Over law, which requires drivers to switch lanes or slow down when passing active but stopped or parked emergency or service vehicles, was enacted. Since this time, Move Over laws have been implemented by all 50 states with the aim of helping make our roads safer for the dedicated individuals we rely on to help us when we need it.
However, despite nationwide adoption, a majority of the public remains unaware that Move Over laws exist according to the NHTSA, and the laws are likely to be misinterpreted as suggestion rather than regulation, or considered as applying only to police cruisers, ambulances or firetrucks, not service vehicles such as tow trucks or wreckers. As a result of this misunderstanding, tow operators continue to be overlooked.
Yet, the work of a tow truck operator is some of the most dangerous in the world. Every day tow professionals face not only aggressive drivers and unwieldy equipment, but immense risk at the side of the road, laying safety aside to help stranded motorists or assist with accidents.
Sometimes arriving on scene even before police, firefighters or medics, tow operators are a critical first responder. Unfortunately, they’re also typically forgotten. Fatality rates reflect this. According to the International Towing Museum, an average 60 tow operators are killed each year after being struck by passing vehicles while working along the roadside. That’s one every six days, a figure six times higher than that for law enforcement according to 2017 data from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
As a result of this risk, the tow industry nationwide is suffering. Service provider businesses both large and small are facing significant driver availability and retention headwinds as alternative and less dangerous opportunities, such as shared-ride services or parcel delivery, attract employees. As tow businesses struggle, the potential reverberation across the roadside assistance industry – from automotive companies to insurance providers, motor clubs to municipalities – could be great.
At Agero, service providers are the cornerstone of our business, and as we mark this 25th anniversary of the horrific events that inspired the creation of the Move Over law, we want to remind the nation of this forgotten first responder and ask that you join us in supporting increasing safety awareness for this profession.
This year, we’re pleased to continue our ongoing efforts to support tow industry safety efforts. This includes the continuation of our service provider certification training programs as well as a pledged contribution to the International Tow & Recovery Museum’s Survivor Fund, aimed at providing immediate financial support to families of the men and women who lose their lives in the line of service.
For drivers – professional or not – we encourage you to become familiar with and follow the Move Over laws in your state. As a best practice, drivers should also implement the Smith System:
- Aim high in steering. Look beyond the vehicle that is in front of you.
- Get the big picture and look for surrounding hazards.
- Keep your eyes moving and use your peripheral vision.
- Know the space around you. Leave yourself an out.
- Make sure other drivers see your signals (headlights, brake lights and directional).
For industries who rely heavily on tow operators, evaluate your existing partnerships. Consider whether your contracts or paperwork take into the account the full scope of safety challenges faced by this industry and if there are ways this can be addressed.
For journalists, the need for education and awareness is a great one. We must work together to spread the message.
Remember: Move Over. It’s the law.