ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — A new report from AAA shows that being a tow truck driver is one of America’s most lethal jobs.
The report says that on average, two emergency responders, which includes tow truck workers, are stuck and killed every month by a driver who fails to obey the Slow Down, Move Over law.
Government data shows that tow operators are killed at a rate of almost 43 deaths per 100,000 workers, compared to just three for all other industries.
“We examined this safety challenge because these crashes are avoidable if drivers slow down and move over to allow roadside workers the space to carry out their duties safely,” said President and Executive Director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety Dr. David Yang. “We must help motorists see and react appropriately whenever an emergency responder is on the side of the road.”
AAA identifies the problem as while all states have Move Over laws, they say motorist awareness and compliance are inconsistent, with 71% of Americans unaware of their state’s laws according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
The Move Over laws requires drivers to slow down or change lanes when first responders such as police, EMS, fire, and tow trucks are on the roadside. AAA adds that not all states have laws requiring drivers to change lanes or slow down when approaching a broken-down vehicle.
An analysis by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety analyzed data from the NHTSA and found that 1,703 people were killed outside a disabled vehicle in the U.S. from 2016 to 2020. New York State ranks at number 17 with 37 deaths from 2016 to 2020.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, in an attempt to find a solution to this issue, conducted two field studies on busy roads to see how effective various countermeasures to protect roadside workers.
After surveying tow workers, emergency responders, and road maintenance workers, the AAA Foundation found that 60% had experienced a near miss while working at the roadside. 15 percent of those surveyed survived being hit by a passing vehicle.
Following this survey, the AAA Foundation placed an electronic vehicle-mounted variable message sign (VMS). They found that with VMS activated, drivers changed lanes and slowed down more than when the VMS was not operating.
The odds of a vehicle moving over were 95 percent higher when the VMS was used, according to the Foundation.
The Foundation also tested out the use of cones, flares, and emergency flashing light patterns. The researchers found that these led to significant lane shifts by drivers, but were less effective at reducing speeds or increasing the distance to the passing vehicles that did not change lanes.
“AAA is using this research to promote the adoption of lifesaving countermeasures to protect tow workers and first responders. AAA is sharing these findings with other impacted industries and traffic safety advocates,” said AAA’s Managing Director of Automotive Solutions Cliff Ruud. “At the same time, AAA will continue educating drivers about the need to obey move-over laws because doing so saves lives.”
The AAA Foundation says the next steps and the results of this study are that using VMS, nighttime light patterns, cones, or flares can positively impact the behaviors of passing drivers under most circumstances. AAA recommends that service vehicles or fleets use these features in order to protect these roadside heroes.