Tow Truck drivers are often not considered first responders, many hope to change that
VANCOUVER — There are many dangerous lines of work you may think of off the top of your head. Deep sea fishermen, police officers, roofers, maybe even construction workers. But what about the men and women who stop and help when your car breaks down on the freeway?
Tow truck drivers and roadside workers suffer many horrific accidents every year, and the number of fatalities is on the rise. In one analysis conducted by researchers at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that the towing industry is 15 times deadlier than all other private industries combined.
Locally, a driver and the family in the car he was towing were all killed in Kelso along I-5 just last month, and a driver for Chappelle’s Towing lost a leg in an accident in Clark County in January.
“It’s still a little difficult. I can’t get around, but I am coping with it,” said David Rios, who lost his leg in January. “I have doctor’s appointments and it’s going well, and it’s just gonna be a long process. I’m getting my prosthetic leg and my strength and I’m doing pretty good.”
As both a traffic safety advocacy group and emergency roadside service provider, AAA Washington is fighting to drastically reduce the shocking number of accidents by teaming up with other first responders at risk working alongside traffic.
Each year, a multi-agency team works on a traffic safety campaign designed to save the lives of tow truck drivers and the people they help. AAA Washington, local tow companies, Washington State Patrol, Washington State Department of Transportation, and Clark County Fire District 6 came together to raise awareness this year. The message is simple, and it’s also the law: “Slow Down and Move Over.”
“All of the clubs across the country are involved in getting ‘Slow Down, Move Over’ laws passed in state legislatures,” said Kelly Just, the Traffic Safety Program Manager for AAA Washington. “So obviously, it’s been a big issue for us, because we started out as emergency roadside service. It’s crucial, and we can’t recall this many dangerous incidents happening in such a short period of time. I think it probably goes hand in hand with all the speeding during COVID.”
On Wednesday (May 5) the agencies gathered to shoot a Public Service Announcement reminding drivers of their responsibilities on the road. The video promotes the law “Slow Down and Move Over,” and requires drivers who see an emergency vehicle or tow operator to move a lane over, or at least slow down by 10 mph.
The PSA is expected to air in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho and will help remind motorists that the law does not only apply to ambulances and police, but any emergency response vehicles.
“It’s one of the most dangerous occupations because the office is the roadside,” Just said. “I’m not barging into your office and you know, driving a truck through your office a foot away, so you got to try and remember that this is their job. They’re not intending to sacrifice their lives, but they all want to help people, which is why they’re on the side of the road.”
Rios and Just both said they hope people will learn from recent tragedies and make the appropriate course corrections, that they feel are really not all that hard. It’s what people should already be doing, they said.
“The man that helped me that day … he helped by putting a tourniquet around my leg. He didn’t have to do it, but he did it,” Rios said. “So when you can help somebody in stress or a wreck, get out and do it. Help share knowledge, wisdom to the drivers, and people. I’m gonna be more cautious. That’s all I can do. You know, it’s in the back of my head everyday. Watch out, move over and slow down.”
Clark County Fire District 6 contributed to this report