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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.

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Randall C. Resch

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Thank you for this well written analysis.  I could never understand working the 'traffic-side' of a tow.  I've heard guys say "I want to see what's coming" but that is simply an incorrect way to view the situation.  By the time you see distracted-motorist-on-cell-phone coming across the white line at 70 mph there's no chance you'll be able to get out of harms way.   When I ran a flatbed, I worked the controls from the passenger side of the truck on EVERY tow just, even in a driveway or parking lot, so that it became a habit to use that side of the truck (unless there was a reason I was not able to such as an obstruction etc on that side). 


I got rid of the flatbed.  Too many close call for me.  I use an autoloader now and I get the vehicle lifted, the customer in the cab of my truck as quick as possible, and slow-roll to the next exit or turn-out.  


Thanks again for the helpful commentary.




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Very well written piece Sir. As we all know, There are numerous reasons that Operators are killed or maimed on the roadways. Can MOST of them be prevented with proper training AND SITUATIONAL AWARENESS? 


I really believe they can. SDMO Laws don't work. They are not the be-all end-all. Not for nothing, murder, burglary, domestic violence, drunk driving etc... are all against written law yet, they happen EVERYDAY.


A big, big part of the problem in my opinion is operator complacency. And I don't mean just white line work per-say. It could be an operator who loads a vehicle on a roll back and doesn't bother to secure a catch strap or safety chain to the front of said vehicle prior to getting behind and under the rear of the vehicle to attach the tie backs. Sure, he has placed his life literally in front of that winch, the line and rigging forever without issue. Then there's that ONE time.... That one time the free spool was not completely engaged, that ONE time your rigging didn't hold, That ONE time the line broke... All it takes is that ONE TIME.


Now, What I am about to say may not sit well with everyone out there but it needs to be said, Tow Operators MUST START to take responsibility for their own lives. In every aspect of the job. Your roadside movements and positioning are YOUR responsibility.


You must think through your movements, know a way out of where you are should something go awry..  We cannot and should not have ever thought some written law or a bunch of flashing lights and reflective clothing is going to give us some sort of magical shield where we could just go about doing anything we wanted on the side of the road. PROTECT yourselves because no else will. 


So many of these horrible deaths could have been prevented if the operator, experienced or new would not allow complacency to play a role in the uncontrollable situation they may have been put in. You have NO control over the 17 year old texting-tweeting driver or the hammered drunk guy running down the shoulder right towards your scene,  But if you are operating on the guardrail side of your truck, you have your head up and NEVER turn your back to traffic, you might just see whats coming and be able to get away via your already scoped out escape route from the imminent collision...Roadside operator deaths will always be a factor. But, i really feel if we all took more time to plan, train and prepare ourselves for the given situation we have to work in, We could drastically reduce the fatalities that plague our industry.  Just my 2 cents.     

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Grumps, you do not know how many tow drivers I have seen stand or work in a narrow space between the vehicle and the Guardrail when the could have crossed the Guardrail and reached over... Common Sense Practices which could say anyone from death or injury. The primary thought on my my is escape plan I start that exit strategy as I arrive and step out of the truck. It's so easy that it just might make the difference, in fact I know it has, because there have been close calls. So many I can't recall them for long. If I did I likely wouldn't be effective or even do this type of work. It's truly Hazardous Duty!

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These days i find myself looking at my scene the moment I pull up and Just by instinct I start planning my movements, Where I will stand, Where i will go Should the worst happen. In my 24 almost 25 Professional years ( God, I am getting OLD.. LOL ) In this Industry I have had more close calls than I would like to admit. I have had my truck struck twice, One was very serious and injured both me and a police officer on scene pretty good. And of course I have had the occasional but rare equipment failure, bad rig-up etc. But what I feel is different for me is I always take the time to look back at what happened, think it through and LEARNED FROM IT!!!! Whereas I see many other Operators be it on Youtube, in person or whatnot that will take a bad situation like that and basically laugh it off. Its almost like they think "well I didnt get hurt last time it happened so I am not worried about it". This whole "Not gonna happen to me" mentality MUST STOP. It is literally KILLING US...  Even with all the best planning and forward thinking I do I was STILL Injured in that serious accident years back. But I know in my heart of hearts that my thoughts, actions and planning on that terrible day saved my life. My name would be on the wall of the fallen today if I would have just winged it and threw caution to the wind.  


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  • 1 year later...

This was copied from a duplicate post originally created on July 14th, 2020:


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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On 7/12/2020 at 8:57 PM, PeakTowing said:

I use an autoloader now and I get the vehicle lifted, the customer in the cab of my truck as quick as possible, and slow-roll to the next exit or turn-out.  



Peak the equipment i am assigned is a wheel lift but requires the straps over the tire.  Do you have something similar or you got the grabber type arms?

I do both side straps and both safety chains on the shoulder  and that means I spend time near the white line.  Wondering if I should switch to a strap and safety chain on the non traffic side only till I can get to a turnout or exit.   Was not trained that way but man I do not want to have one of these articles written about me. 

Steve W.

Los Angeles, CA

FSP Operator

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  • 3 weeks later...

Wanted to follow up on my comment above.  For the last month I have actively been avoiding the white line and only hooking up the non traffic side till I can get to a turn out, wider shoulder section or off ramp to complete the traffic side hook ups.  I know it's not the end all solution because an errant car can still come from any lane.  But I  think that is the approach to take with a wheel lift.  One wheel strap and safety chain is fine for a slow trip on the shoulder.    


MY time at the white line cannot be eliminated completely though.   With FSP we do not always get there in time and the person has already started a tire change on the traffic side so sometimes I am forced to do it as I would rather do it in 30 seconds with the impact them have them messing around there for 5 minutes.   I have gotten into  the habit of putting out cones on the white line behind my truck.  Not really to protect anything but really just to give me some kind or visual warning if I see my cones start to fly 200 feet back.   Had a guy changing out a bearing on a trailer wheel hub the other day on the white line.  Could not convince him to just drag it off the freeway and do it on the street.  Threw out all the warning I could for him.   Turned out OK but I watched from my truck. 

Steve W.

Los Angeles, CA

FSP Operator

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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? 


I had a thought about this topic the other day after watching another flatbed driver working the controls from the traffic side on the shoulder of the 210 Freeway in CA.  .  I used to work at GM in a warehouse facility and we had an incredible safety record for a warehouse.  Something like 500 days without a lost workday accident.      So seeing a "Tower down" every few weeks is sickening.    One thing we did was if there was ever a serious injury at any facility an accident report was done, recommendations for change made and the report was distributed throughout the warehouse system and it was covered in every employee meeting with every employee.    Is there anything like that that has been created for the Tow industry?    I know in this very forum there are like 50 safety topics but they seem to focus on loading procedures and the like.   Do the towing associations put out safety talks on these fatalities?


My though on this was this.  When you cover an operator death with your employees what source do you use?  I would imagine the newspaper article about the accident?   Does anyone ever get the police report on the accident??    One thing about those safety reports we did at GM the employees name was never used for confidentiality.    But it was also never used because we wanted to get across that this could happen to anyone.  Making it not about a specific person the person reading it can be like   "Oh I have done that exact thing" .    The newspaper articles generally focus (rightly) on the person and thier life and not the actions of the victim on that day.


I went back a few years and pulled some police reports on Tower Down situations.   One good thing is the agencies do not give you the gory details. But I think they give you enough to make it hit home.


Just as an example how do you think the following would go over with your employees?


Fatality Accident 

Time of Incident: 2:40am

Weather: Clear

Lighting: Dark

Road Surface: Dry

Driver of Vehicle 1:   25 Year old female.  Injuries (None)  Distracted (No)  Vision Obstructed (No)  Use of Alcohol (No) Use of Drugs (No)


Vehicle 1 was traveling northbound on the service road from the Interstate at approximately 55MPH.  Tow Truck 1 was parked on the inside shoulder of the Interstate service road, partially in the inside travel lane with emergency lights activated.  Tower 1 and Customer 1 were standing in the roadway in the inside lane of the northbound service road from the Interstate.  Tower 1 was not wearing any reflective clothing.  


As Vehicle 1 proceeded northbound it swerved to miss the Tow Truck that was partially in the left lane and collided with Tower 1. 

Tower 1 became airborne and impacted Tow Truck 1's right side mirror. 

Tower 1 came to final rest in the inside travel lane of the service road north of Tow Truck 1. 

Vehicle 1 continued north and collided with Customer 1 

Customer 1 became trapped underneath Vehicle 1. 

Vehicle 1 continued north on the service road dragging Customer 1.

Vehicle 1 veered to the right and Vehicle 1 overturned onto its roof.

The front of Vehicle 1 then collided with the concrete barrier wall on the north shoulder of the service road.  

Customer 1 came to final rest in the left travel lane. 


Tower 1 was pronounced deceased  on scene by Lieutenant Rycus of the Fire and Rescue Department at 2:51 a.m. 

Tower 1 was removed from the scene and transported to the District  Medical Examiner's Office. 

Customer 1, was pronounced deceased by Doctor Beth Chase of Oak Park Medical Center at 5:15 a.m.




The incident reports we did at GM would then go into root cause analysis.  Called it the 5 why's.  Ask at least 5 why's and see if you can get to the root cause.  

Why did the Tower get hit?  He was standing in the Travel lane.

Why was he standing in a travel lane?  He was loading a disabled car with the bed controls located on the right side of the tow truck.  

Why was he using the right side bed controls?  (and that is something we cannot answer without further information as the drawing above is not to scale and not clear if they had enough room to use the left side controls) 


Then you could do another 5 why for the customer to get a root case as to why he was hit.  

You could also to 5 Whys as to why the driver of the vehicle did what they did,  might be some speculation of course but good to approach it from all angles. 


Then you would go into recommendations and changes.

They always told us the weakest recommendations were ones you had no control over.  

So a recommendation of "remind employees to follow the rules" would be similar to us saying "remind the public to move over"  it's a weak recommendation.

What they would rather see is actual changes that eliminated the problem.   Something like elimination of right and left bed controls.  All done from a remote or in the cab.  Then if the area was tight the tower could stand on the K rail and operate thier bed after hooking up the car.  There are limits of course but you would be surprised what solutions you can come up with if you get down to the root cause.  



And Like I said before the agencies release these mild versions of the accident reports to the public.   The next level after a simple report like this is the detailed drawings and photos.  And that can sometimes be  borderline gore.  But I am wondering if that is what it would take to get folks to take it seriously.  I also think it might scare some people right out of this industry and in the back of my mind I have a sneaking suspicion the drive to keep employees working every day might be behind the lip service we as an industry pay to this topic.    I really hope I am wrong about that.  


Edited by Steve W

Steve W.

Los Angeles, CA

FSP Operator

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Thanks for your comments Steve ... outstanding post that smartly written and extremely intuitive. I agree with your comments but I firmly believe (and teach) that most highway tows and transports could be handled from the non-traffic side; if only to remove the vehicle to a wide-spot on the shoulder or creep down the shoulder to the first ramp. It's my guess that many tower's killed didn't have formal tow operator (safety) training and they never participated in FREE TIMs training.


While reviewing fatality investigations can be ... as you said ... borderline gore, every fatality and tower strike tell's it's own story, but provides valuable lesson's learned. Accident reports are available (in most states) for those who were involved or participants. They're not impossible to obtain.


Fatality investigations aren't new and determining cause of operator death is simple to determine with or without seeing the official investigation. Perhaps one-third of all towers killed may have been spared if they only worked the non-traffic side controls, stayed-out of active traffic lanes, or worked according to what industry safety suggests. Industry safety? What's that?


For me, having recorded operator strikes and cause of accident for better than 30-years ... this message isn't getting across industry-wide and hasn't gotten across in the 106-years since the wrecker was first invented.


I've dilligently recorded and archived 621x tow operators killed working on-highway and shoulder events. The message is there, but something's missing in translation that says working on the highway is a dangerous proposition. A large percent of tow companies want to spend dollars for new trucks, new rotators, new bling and outfit their truck with a hundred spot-strobes ... but they FAIL in providing their employees the proper education which could one-day save their lives.


The bottom-line is simple ... Slow Down Move Over laws don't work making every tower responsible for their personal on-scene safety. Unless each tower is a bit "apprehensive" when working the highway, then they too may not have the proper focus to survive.


But, to think that some towers forget or refuse to accept signs that spell safety, they may be too lazy, too complacent and too macho to suggest they have that, "it won't happen to me," mentality? Perhaps it's an over-bearing ego with too much testoserone that put's then in harm's way. Since we're all keepers of our own destinies, there's a much needed "culture change" this industry needs. But, as you question ... how do we get there?     R.



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Randall C. Resch

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