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Simple Reality: Operator Deaths CAN be Prevented ! !

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I spent considerable time going over highway related fatality data yesterday as a result of this most recent operator fatality. In a post regarding a recent tow operator's tragic death, Moose commented, “What's It Going to Take, SLOW DOWN MOVE OVER isn't working,” and 5towman wrote, “Very sad. Just no reason this keeps happening. Thoughts and prayers.” Both questions beg an industry-wide focus. Moose is right, Slow-Down Move-Over ISN’T working … we already know that. California’s SDMO law was written into the books in 2007. Other states followed suit, but consistent tow operator and first responder fatalities only re-prove and re-demonstrate that distracted driving continues to kill pedestrian workers.


5towman’s observation is correct … it IS quite sad. But, I’m more inclined to argue that tow operators put themselves in harm’s way by choosing to work the white-line side. Of the 13x or so tow operators killed in highway events this year, more than three-quarters of those operator strikes reportedly were BECAUSE towers were standing/working or walking on the white-line side, or, walked into an active lane. And, that includes towers with many, many years of experience. For argument sake, what comes to your mind when news reports say;


  • The operator was standing alongside the pickup truck when a car hit him, sending him an unknown distance
  • The tow operator and the customer were standing next to the road on the driver’s side of the car.
  • The operator died on the scene after he was struck while standing outside his tow truck
  • The man’s vehicle then continued “up the bed” of the tow truck and hit the operator, “who was standing adjacent to the flat bed portion of the tow truck,” the state police report said. 


News reports like these leave little argument to suggest towers were on the traffic side of their tow trucks or their customer’s vehicles. I’ve got hundreds of other investigative statements just like these. No, I wasn’t there and I don’t know all the details, but these statements are a good indication of what I believe the problem is.


So, what’s it gonna’ take? Distracted and DUI driving are here to stay. Cellphones and GPS aren't going away. SDMO laws don’t work suggesting, towers have to take their on-scene safety as a number-one priority by NOT working the white-line side. Towers - GET-OFF THE WHITE-LINE. In another post Grumps wrote; “I’d rather take getting a citation rather than being killed by a wayward motorist.” Is that 4-point tie-down worth being killed over?    


Fatality numbers don’t lie suggesting more than 350-operators have been killed on highways since 1954. And, yes, my numbers are an estimate only, but give an idea as to just how dangerous this line-of-work is. I believe towers should completely understand that working the white-line side is the path to a certain death. Instead, from the non-traffic-side, load the vehicle, secure it enough that it’s safe to move to a safer location; then complete securing the vehicle where you’re NOT exposed to dangerous traffic.


White-Line safety certainly demands a culture change in operator mentality. That’s what I think it’s going to take. How we get there as an industry is nothing less than an individual effort. It seems so simple, but why doesn’t that message catch-on? How does that message sink and stick to each tower’s mind? To that, I extend a reality that says; "When tow operators work away from the traffic side, perhaps these repeated fatalities will go down."


There are other associated factors that lead to tow operators being injured and killed. Some uncontrollable, other's not.  But, working the white-line can be prevented when towers take time to consider their on-scene techniques to work quickly and eliminate time on-scene. Can operator deaths be prevented (?) Not through the actions of the motoring public, but, by towers themselves choosing to work out of harm’s way and on the non-traffic side. Make it a conscious choice and live by your words.        R.

Randall C. Resch

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Randall, thank you for your effort and devotion to searching out both the numbers and details. I just could never find that devotion though it was not that I didn't want to put in the time. It came down to I work those roadways nightly only taking a few days a year off. I am often in the danger zone be it on the interstates, Highways, Byways or even the City Streets. I took off this weekend just to gather my thoughts and spend some time here on the message board. I've been looking out at the Ocean and reflecting on the first half of the year. The growth TowForce has seen as both the number old members and new members surge is quite extraordinary. I hope to see more participation as this form of social media is still the most time effective.


I'll add a story about the last run I was sent on Friday Morning prior to heading out. I was set to be off at 0600. At 0530 a run came in a vehicle was stopped on one of the bridges. So, even though I was set to leave for the weekend I headed out. Four lanes of traffic and we're in the right Vehicles mostly Truckers Flying by 4 to 6 feet from me as I exit the truck and all I can think is just don't let this be the time I become a statistic. I hooked and booked, but because it was a rear wheel drive and i was a ways to the next exit I needed to put a strap on it just in case. Before anyone says you didn't put that on dollies, yeah right! Every additional second you spend in the Danger Zone is a second closer to the end of your life. You Are Not Invincible and if you haven't figured out with a tower down every 6 to 7 days then I can't help you. I do feel that those who watch these incidents do take their roadside safety far more serious then the 7 out of 10 that just don't know and yes the numbers of uniformed drivers is more than 50%. The majority work for companies that are either uniformed or simply do not hold safety meetings and stress safety. Even seat belts with nearly 40% of Tow Truck Operators that either do not wear their seat belt or do not regularly where it. Yes, there are instances where the seat belt has contributed to death. However, that number is less than 3 percent and possibly even under 1 percent.


As for the White Line it should be in your head at all times to stay away from the roadway. However, I have noticed over the years nearly as many Tow Operators have been killed or injured entering or exiting the truck. Having eyes in the back of your head "Being aware of what is going on" is very important to ones safety. Focusing only on the task of removing the vehicle will get you killed. I often advise others of the dangers which increases my own awareness although still leaving me more vulnerable then they are for having advised them. Watch the Traffic not me is what I tell them YELL if there is a vehicle approaching I need to be made aware of. Some say put them in the truck, I want them where they can flee and also be an additional set of eyes.


Some use Cones, Flags, Flashing Lights, etc. and that's fine when you're in the roadway for an extended about of time. When the time is a few minutes often less than 3 minutes, use of a WARNING DEVICE adds seconds to the time spent in the Danger Zone!


Now. I know that there are many more here to contribute to this discussion, chime in add your thoughts. What was the last Danger Zone you entered and how did you deal with it?

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