Editors: B-roll for your use of a tow truck driver working alongside traffic.
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.
"Deaths like these can be avoided if drivers slow down and move over when approaching emergency vehicles with lights flashing,” said Auto Club Communications Manager Doug Shupe. “At 65 miles per hour, your vehicle travels over 95 feet in one second and that one second could change everything. Please give roadside rescuers the space they need to safely help stranded drivers.”
Recent data from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety finds not everyone understands the Slow Down Move Over law that requires 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 who are 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 are added 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, a much smaller percentage (65%) believe this is required when encountering a tow truck with its lights on.
Rosita Manu lost her 27-year-old son, Faapuna Mac Manu, nicknamed “Little Mac,” on December 19, 2012. Her son was a tow truck operator who was helping a stranded driver with a flat tire on the 405 freeway in Long Beach, when an impaired driver failed to move over from the lane closest to Manu’s tow truck and the stranded vehicle, and slammed into them. Manu was killed in the crash and left behind three young children.
“My son was a people person and was the type of person who would give his shirt off his back,” said Rosita Manu. “Little Mac wanted to help people and accommodate them as best as he could at the roadside.”
It's not just tow providers and other first responders being killed at the roadside. Between 2016 and 2020, 1,703 people died while outside of a disabled vehicle, and 271 of those fatalities happened in California.
“People need to be more mindful of one another,” said Manu. “How many more people have to die before people are going to get it?”
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 by 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.
- Stay alert, avoid distractions and focus on the task of driving.
- Slow down when approaching emergency vehicles with flashing lights stopped on the side of a two-lane roadway, unless otherwise directed by an emergency worker.
- On multi-lane roadways, slow down when you see the flashing lights of an emergency vehicle at the roadside and, if possible, move over into an adjacent lane. If you are unable to switch lanes, slow down to a speed that is safe and reasonable.