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Ignorance of steer-clear law endangers tow truck drivers (PA)


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TRANSFER — Rick Lineberger flipped on the emergency lights of his $110,000 tow truck and hooked up an old, white sedan to the back of his rig alongside state Route 18. He smoked a cigarette and shook his head as he stood outside of his truck and watched vehicles zoom by without even a second look in his direction. 

“You can always tell when they’re coming,” he said. 


Lineberger has been in the towing business for 18 years. He owns Rowe’s Auto Parts with his fiancee, Missy Wheaton, in Transfer.

He said if Wheaton is on a call with him, she’ll scream and wave her hands at oblivious drivers as they whiz past. Lineberger doesn’t get quite as worked up, although he did admit to throwing a few flashlights in their direction out of frustration.

“Somebody’s going to get killed — it’s coming,” Lineberger said. “All you’d have to do is trip on a pothole and you’re freakin’ dead.”

Pennsylvania’s “Steer Clear” law, was adopted in 2001 specifically to give tow truck drivers and other emergency responders protection when working alongside busy highways.

According to the law, motorists are required to move to a nonadjacent lane, or slow down if they can’t change lanes, but Lineberger says local motorists are often unaware that the law applies for tow trucks just as it does for police, fire and emergency medical services vehicles.

“People don’t care if the flashing lights aren’t red or blue,” he said. “No one pays any attention to tow trucks.”

Keith Rodgers of Rodgers Auto Body in Jamestown remembers the call when he was towing a disabled motorist. An out-of-control car hurtled through a roadblock and wrapped itself around a nearby utility pole just feet from where he was working. 

Scenes like that, he said, are far too common for tow truck drivers, who have to be more vigilant of their surroundings while on the job to make up for the high number of distracted or unaware drivers who share the road. 

“We expect the worst every time we go out,” he said. “No one deserves to go out on a job and get squished.”

Rodgers’ and Lineberger’s customers may be stalled or disabled along the roadside, but Rodgers said when a car breaks down, it’s often unable to make it all the way to the shoulder of the road. That leaves the stalled car to straddle the white line between the shoulder and the roadway — right in the crosshairs of oncoming traffic.

“Cars will come so close it feels like they could pull the jacket right off your back,” Rodgers said.

And that’s exactly why Wheaton has been pushing for more awareness of Steer Clear provisions among motorists. She’s even been riding along with Lineberger more often to give him another set of eyes in a potentially dangerous situation.

“It’s mind-blowing to see the amount of people who don’t even bother to move over,” she said 


State Sen. John Rafferty, R-44, Collegeville, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, sponsored a bill to stiffen penalties for violators of the Steer Clear law. The senator describes it as a “common sense law” that should serve as a crackdown for repeat offenders.

“We all know common sense is long gone,” Wheaton said. “You go out there and tell me where the common sense is.”

First offenders would be fined $250 under the stiffened law. Second offenders receive a fine of $500. Three or more offenses would cost a driver $1,000 with a 90-day license suspension, or if the violation results in a serious or bodily injury or death to another person.

But Lineberger and Wheaton said the problem is still as dire as ever.

“The police aren’t enforcing it,” Wheaton said. “A lot of them don’t even know it’s a law.”

To bring awareness to the law, Wheaton has helped organize a free class led by Todd Leiss, traffic incident management coordinator for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, to teach Mercer County tow drivers, firefighters, EMS, police officers, road crews and other emergency responders to work together safely on the roadways.  

The class will be from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. June 2 at the Transfer Fire Department. It features tabletop exercises and will count toward Department of Health EMS continuing-education credits.

The class will also promote “Slow Down, Move Over,” and attendees are encouraged to bring emergency equipment.  

“Let’s make it known,” Wheaton said. “I don’t want anyone to get killed because of ignorance.”



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