An average of 24 emergency responders, including tow operators, are struck and killed by vehicles while working at the roadside each year – meaning someone in this line of work is killed, on average, every other week in America. The Automobile Club of Southern California is warning drivers over the busy holiday season to change lanes or slow down near roadside workers.
"Deaths like these can be avoided if drivers slow down and move over to give these responders room to work safely,” said Auto Club Communications and Programs Manager Doug Shupe. "We can't stress enough how important it is to pay attention so you have time to change lanes or slow down when you see a AAA or other tow truck operator, an emergency responder, or anybody stopped along the side of the road."
The Auto Club forecasts nearly 7.8 million Southern Californians will take road trips for the holidays and during the 11-day holiday travel period expects to rescue 146,000 stranded drivers for various reasons, including flat tires and empty gas tanks. However, startling new data from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety finds not everyone understands the laws that require drivers to give roadside rescuers space or slow way down if they can’t move over.
AAA Foundation survey results show:
- Among drivers who report not complying with Slow Down Move Over laws at all times, 42% thought the behavior was somewhat or not dangerous at all to roadside emergency workers. This shows drivers may not realize how risky it is for people working or stranded along freeways and roads close to moving traffic.
- Nearly a quarter of those surveyed (23%) are unaware of the Slow Down Move Over law in their state. All states have such laws.
- And, among those who are aware of their state's Slow Down Move Over law, about 15% report not understanding the potential consequences for violating the Slow Down Move Over law. In California, failure to obey the Slow Down Move Over Law can result in a point on your driving record, and fines of at least $238 but up to $1,000. Even worse penalties if the violation results in a crash.
Additionally, a survey conducted by AAA clubs in Southern California and several other states across the country found:
- More than half of drivers associate Slow Down Move Over laws with traditional emergency vehicles, specifically those with their red or blue lights on. But when construction zones and vehicles/motorists stranded on the shoulder are mentioned, many believe moving over is just a courtesy, not the law.
- While more than 90% believe Slow Down Move Over laws require them to slow down and move over when encountering a fire truck, police car, or ambulance with its lights on, far fewer (65%) believe this is required when encountering a tow truck with its lights on.
Brendon Tatro lost his dad, a tow truck operator, on December 17, 2011. Christopher Tatro, 40, was loading a disabled vehicle onto his flatbed truck on the side of the 91 Freeway in Riverside when a hit-and-run driver struck him. The tragic crash happened less than a week before Christmas and devastated Brendon and his whole family.
“It was a really rough time. My dad was caring, had a great personality, and had compassion for motorists he would help on a daily basis,” said Tatro. “For families of emergency responders and tow truck operators, the danger is always on our minds and we think it’s a matter of when, not if, something will happen.”
It's not just tow providers and other responders being killed at the roadside. Since 2015, more than 1,600 people have been struck and killed while outside of a disabled vehicle. The reality is that drivers are increasingly distracted behind the wheel. Previous AAA Foundation research has found that drivers are up to four times as likely to crash if they are talking on a cell phone while driving and up to eight times as likely to be in a crash if texting.
About Slow Down, Move Over
Since 2007, AAA has been instrumental in passing Slow Down Move Over laws in all states, including advocating for those laws to cover tow operators and other emergency responders. Additionally, AAA clubs have participated in educational and advocacy initiatives, creating public service announcements and reaching out to state officials. But, there is more work to be done. AAA is committed to raising awareness of Slow Down Move Over laws and the dangers associated with working at the roadside.
These laws require motorists to move over one lane, if it is safe to do so, or slow down when approaching an incident where tow providers, police, firefighters or emergency medical service crews are stopped and working at the roadside. In California, the law has been expanded to cover municipal vehicles and the law in the Golden State applies to surface streets as well as freeways.
To protect roadside workers, drivers with disabled vehicles, and others, the Auto Club offers these tips:
- Don’t Drive Intoxicated. Don’t Drive Intexticated.
- Remain alert, avoid distractions and focus on the task of driving.
- Keep an eye out for situations where emergency vehicles, tow trucks, CalTrans workers, utility service vehicles or disabled vehicles are stopped on the side of the road.
- When you see these situations, slow down and, if possible, move one lane over and away from the people and vehicles stopped at the side of the road.