We see them and we don’t see them, and that's part of the problem. Tow trucks tend to blend into the background as we make our way down the highway, but being blind to these vehicles is dangerous for us as motorists and to the tow truck operator.
Without flashing lights or sirens, we don’t think of them as emergency vehicles, and yet they help stranded motorists on the side of the road just like police officers, firefighters, and EMTs. There are no laws requiring cars to slow down or change lanes when a tow truck operator is hooking up a car on the shoulder, and that puts everyone at risk.
Dangers Faced by Tow Truck Operators
The job of a tow truck operator sounds simple enough: receive notice of a disabled vehicle, drive to the scene, hook up the vehicle, and drive away. However, tow truck drivers risk their lives as they complete these tasks, and other drivers should be aware of those risks.
Dangers to tow truck operators include the following:
- Speeding or careless drivers. Tow truck operators often work on the side of a highway where a car has broken down. Traffic is speeding by at 65mph or more, often coming close to the tow truck and operator as he secures the disabled vehicle. When motorists are driving too fast, they may veer off the road and hit the disabled car, tow truck operator, or tow truck. Tow truck drivers can protect themselves and other motorists by wearing high-visibility clothing and placing reflective triangles around the work area so approaching cars are warned of their presence.
- Distractions. A tow truck operator must be hyper-aware of his surroundings as he works on the side of the road. Being distracted by calls as he pulls off the road or as he's assessing the situation can result in an unsafe placement of the tow truck or accidentally stepping on to the highway. Tow truck drivers often complain of being interrupted and distracted by the owner of the disabled vehicle, and making mistakes in the hook-up or as he pulls on or off the highway. It's important that the operator avoids these distractions and that other people resist interrupting him as he works.
- Dangerous surroundings. Tow truck operators responding to car accidents often work in poor weather conditions, on difficult terrain, and in isolated areas. They're at risk for slipping on ice or snow, encountering rockslides or wild animals, or sliding into a ravine. Operators should always be alert to these dangers and other motorists need to be aware that they can add to the danger when they drive carelessly in poor conditions.
All motorists should view tow truck operators as emergency responders and give them the respect and clearance they need to do their jobs.
Dangers of Tow Trucks to Motorists
As much as tow truck operators deserve our respect, they also have a duty to conduct their work in the safest manner. When a tow truck operator doesn't pull completely off the highway, doesn't wear reflective clothing, and doesn't place warning signals out in their work area, drivers may be caught unware.
Motorists should take the following precautions:
- Give tow trucks on the side of the road plenty of space. If possible, change lanes to avoid driving right next to the stopped vehicles. Otherwise, slow down to a safe speed.
- Don't talk to a tow truck operator while he is hooking up your vehicle. The distraction may cause him to make a mistake that could damage your car or create a hazard on the road.
- Allow a safe following distance behind a truck towing a vehicle. If the towed car isn't hooked up properly, you want to be far enough away to be able to take evasive action.
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