Should Drivers Be Required To Move Over For Tow Trucks?
As we are all aware, towing can be a dangerous job. There are many places where this danger comes from. Part of this danger comes from the operation of the tow truck and the heavy machinery associated with it. But, much of this danger can be mitigated by simple experience and by ensuring that the tow operator is following safe towing procedures. The danger posed by other drivers on the highway when a tow operator is roadside with his wrecker is another matter.
Although drivers whizzing past on the highway at 80 miles per hour can certainly provide a dangerous work environment for the tow operator, and even though this factor is more out of the control of the tow operator, much of this danger can be eliminated by ensuring that the tow truck is equipped with adequate lighting for visibility and that the tower himself is also wearing equipment that increases visibility (something that is even more important at night). But, is this enough to ensure safe towing when a tow truck is parked on the side of a busy highway?
Lawmakers in New York state recently decided that it was not, and they added tow trucks to the list of vehicles that drivers on the highway must move over to the other lane for. The list already includes all police and emergency vehicles when they have their lights on. The law in Colorado is similar to the one in New York and violators who fail to move over to the other lane (if traffic allows it) to give wide berth to law enforcement officials or towers operating on the side of the road can expect to get pulled over themselves and receive a $87 ticket.
Or can they? Actually, in most cases the answer is ‘no’. That’s because, in practice, this law is rarely enforced in Colorado. It remains to be seen whether police officers in New York will effectively enforce the law to ensure that the safety of towers is protected. In Colorado, drivers on the road often times do not follow the law and fail to switch lanes even when they have the space and time to do so. So, even in the case of this legal protection, the lax enforcement means that actual behavior is unchanged, and the actions of drivers on the highway remain an impediment to ensuring safe towing when a tow operator is parked roadside.
Just as law enforcement in Colorado are known to enforce the law somewhat sporadically, some drivers still aren’t even aware of its existence even though the law has been on the books for nearly eight years. Law enforcement in Arvada, Colorado just northwest of downtown Denver, however, are more likely to pull over drivers who don’t comply. Why? Because they lost one of their own, almost 30 years ago, when he was killed by a passing motorist who failed to notice the officer on the side of the road during a routine traffic stop. Today, a memorial to that officer sits in the lobby of the Arvada Police Department.
It remains to be seen whether recent changes in the New York law to include towers will change the behavior of drivers effectively or not. If lax enforcement takes over in New York, it is likely that towers on the side of the road will remain in just as much danger as they are in Colorado due to inconsistent enforcement and widespread ignorance about the law. Whether towers should try to push for more consistent enforcement on the law is a good question. Undoubtedly, the law is designed to protect any professional operating on the roadside and this includes towers, whose lives are no less valuable than law enforcement.
(photo by dwightsghost via Flickr)