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November 2019 Safety Subject

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Pennsylvania Towing Association Notification:

Click on the link below to view the Safety Subject of the month.

This is an interesting subject involving lighting for our trucks.

 

http://www.patowing.com/files/cushycms_uploads/pta_safety_committee_34_225826189.pdf

 

Please drive safely and beware of your surroundings!

 

@brian991219

Edited by TowForce

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Sorry Brian ... your's is a great piece of research, however, I believe it lends ammunition for attorneys representing clients claiming that they were, "blinded by the light". I respectfully disagree with some content as it is (minimally) not accurate to California's cases The wording of each vehicle code when representing the letter of the law versus spirit of the law is a matter of perception. Having researched this topic in its entirety for several California wrongful death claims, I disagree to suggest that a humanoid is NOT drawn to bright lights like a, "Moth to a Flame", or, "Phototaxis", as there is NO scientific research or proof that that occurs as described in the UK's, Loughborough University, The Loughborough Study. Perhaps. Perhaps, "target fixation", is a better choice to describe emergency lighting? The Loughborough Study showed that the faster the flash, the greater the sense of urgency that was interpreted by the receiver, called, "Phototaxis". — Phototaxis is the scientific term for the condition commonly referred to as the, "Moth to the flame", effect ... which has been widely spread throughout the emergency services. The authors of, "The Loughborough Study",  were UNABLE to locate supporting scientific research. As far as I'm concerned, that statement by a Plaintiff in-itself is packed full of crap especially when modern LED lighting can be seen over a mile away. Accordingly I'll ask, "If an emergency light is visible upwards to one mile (5,280-feet), what conditions or factors caused the motorist to not see any part of the light until they firmly planted into the work-zone?" That's one for a life-styles expert ... but, I have my conclusions.

 

Perhaps the best document that I refer to regarding use of emergency lighting is, FEMAs/US Fire Administration's book, Emergency Vehicle Safety Initiative". The narrative within is very specific to the use of colored lighting. It's an older document and I don't know if a new one has been updated to reflect current SDMO laws of all states. In defense of a wrongful death lawsuit against tow companies, I've used this book on several cases and it's information has proved valuable. 

 

 Link:   https://www.usfa.fema.gov/downloads/pdf/publications/fa_336.pdf       Scroll to the "Emergency Lighting Section", beginning  page 53, that specifically mentions, The Loughborough Study", page 63. The mention of, "Moth to a Flame", is something I've noticed come up in lawsuits where intoxicated drivers use that, "blinded by the light",  defense to shift focus away from their intoxicated state. It's easy to blame tow operators and first responders for the motorist's inability to make it past an accident or incident scene without plowing into pedestrian workers or first responder vehicles.

 

May I suggest that each tower gets completely knowledgeable as to the wording of their state's vehicle code when it comes to SDMO, using emergency lighting AND white (loading lights) to the rear. While I salute Brian for providing this forum with vehicle codes that reference state lighting laws, although informative, there is non-descriptive mention of Slow-Down Move-Over laws which go hand-in-hand with use of emergency lighting. SDMO laws can be the best defense towers have to fight lawsuits that challenge use/over-use of emergency lighting. I believe that tow trucks should continue their use of emergency lighting as allowed by your state laws ... not four-way flashers as argued while a tow truck is stationary or moving. While I don't profess to be any credentialed expert in lighting, I'm aware of what tactics are used against towers and first responders in these kinds of cases. None-the-less ... thanks Brian for bringing this debate to the table. I invite others to join in this conversation based on your interpretation of your state laws or  cases that you've been actively involved.      R.

Edited by rreschran
spelling

Randall C. Resch

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On 10/31/2019 at 5:30 PM, rreschran said:

Sorry Brian ... your's is a great piece of research, however, I believe it lends ammunition for attorneys representing clients claiming that they were, "blinded by the light". I respectfully disagree with some content as it is (minimally) not accurate to California's cases The wording of each vehicle code when representing the letter of the law versus spirit of the law is a matter of perception. Having researched this topic in its entirety for several California wrongful death claims, I disagree to suggest that a humanoid is NOT drawn to bright lights like a, "Moth to a Flame", or, "Phototaxis", as there is NO scientific research or proof that that occurs as described in the UK's, Loughborough University, The Loughborough Study. Perhaps. Perhaps, "target fixation", is a better choice to describe emergency lighting? The Loughborough Study showed that the faster the flash, the greater the sense of urgency that was interpreted by the receiver, called, "Phototaxis". — Phototaxis is the scientific term for the condition commonly referred to as the, "Moth to the flame", effect ... which has been widely spread throughout the emergency services. The authors of, "The Loughborough Study",  were UNABLE to locate supporting scientific research. As far as I'm concerned, that statement by a Plaintiff in-itself is packed full of crap especially when modern LED lighting can be seen over a mile away. Accordingly I'll ask, "If an emergency light is visible upwards to one mile (5,280-feet), what conditions or factors caused the motorist to not see any part of the light until they firmly planted into the work-zone?" That's one for a life-styles expert ... but, I have my conclusions.

 

Perhaps the best document that I refer to regarding use of emergency lighting is, FEMAs/US Fire Administration's book, Emergency Vehicle Safety Initiative". The narrative within is very specific to the use of colored lighting. It's an older document and I don't know if a new one has been updated to reflect current SDMO laws of all states. In defense of a wrongful death lawsuit against tow companies, I've used this book on several cases and it's information has proved valuable. 

 

 Link:   https://www.usfa.fema.gov/downloads/pdf/publications/fa_336.pdf       Scroll to the "Emergency Lighting Section", beginning  page 53, that specifically mentions, The Loughborough Study", page 63. The mention of, "Moth to a Flame", is something I've noticed come up in lawsuits where intoxicated drivers use that, "blinded by the light",  defense to shift focus away from their intoxicated state. It's easy to blame tow operators and first responders for the motorist's inability to make it past an accident or incident scene without plowing into pedestrian workers or first responder vehicles.

 

May I suggest that each tower gets completely knowledgeable as to the wording of their state's vehicle code when it comes to SDMO, using emergency lighting AND white (loading lights) to the rear. While I salute Brian for providing this forum with vehicle codes that reference state lighting laws, although informative, there is non-descriptive mention of Slow-Down Move-Over laws which go hand-in-hand with use of emergency lighting. SDMO laws can be the best defense towers have to fight lawsuits that challenge use/over-use of emergency lighting. I believe that tow trucks should continue their use of emergency lighting as allowed by your state laws ... not four-way flashers as argued while a tow truck is stationary or moving. While I don't profess to be any credentialed expert in lighting, I'm aware of what tactics are used against towers and first responders in these kinds of cases. None-the-less ... thanks Brian for bringing this debate to the table. I invite others to join in this conversation based on your interpretation of your state laws or  cases that you've been actively involved.      R.

Randy, as always your input is valuable. You are defiantly the expert in California laws and how they are applied. When you and I have time I look forward to a full education on the spirit vs letter of the CVC as well as how it has been applied historically.

 

To all readers, if you find something incorrect about your state, please bring it to my attention. I have already made adjustments to a few states and will make more after careful review of any updated, or contradictory, sections of code have been presented. I did my best to summarize 50 states vehicle codes into a few words to fit in the space allotted when this article first ran in American Towman. This article is best used with the accompanying graphic, which I will post in this thread for all to have access to.

 

Now, as for the "moth to a flame" comment, please re-read my article. Randy I am in agreement with you that this is an undocumented effect. See the quote from the article below (bold and italics added for emphasis);

 

"Numerous studies have indicated that motorists are often momentarily blinded or otherwise distracted by
emergency warning lights. That’s not to say people are drawn to flashing lights like a moth to a flame,
however emergency lights can create a hazard. It is accepted practice among law enforcement and fire
departments to turn off most of their emergency lighting once on scene.

 

Randy, I also have to ask one clarifying question. When you state " I believe that tow trucks should continue their use of emergency lighting as allowed by your state laws ... not four-way flashers as argued while a tow truck is stationary or moving", did you draw that conclusion from my article or is that in response to another movement within the towing industry that I am unaware of?

 

I know many years ago the TRAA produced a roadside safety video that recommends exactly that, 4 way flashers only and although I see their point, I too disagree with it and nowhere in my article did I intend to imply using only 4 way flashers. Rather, when stationary at a scene, I am borrowing from the best practices and NFPA recommendations to reduce lighting while on scene to only lighting that faces the direction of travel in an effort to remove potential impairments to visibility or distractions to oncoming traffic. Same meaning as when I say to turn off you lower work lights if not needed so that when you tilt your bed up after loading you don't present a potentially blinding light facing traffic moving on your side of the road.

 

As for my point in the article to turn off non-essential warning and other lighting while stationary, I drew that conclusion, in part, from the very study you cite in your comments. Specifically the Phoenix Fire Department study mentioned on page 63 as well as the USFA report "Effects of Warning Light Color and Intensity on Driver Vision" (SAE J595) Oct. 2008. Perhaps the editing process led to some confusion with what I was trying to say, as you know it is hard to convey a point in 1200-1500 words!

 

As for using warning lights while in motion, of course I would never imply to disobey the vehicle code for the state(s) you operate in. That said, it is my personal opinion from nearly 30 years of dealing with various warning light practices as I have traveled all over the country, that towers should not be required to display warning lights (other than tow extension lights) while in tow with a vehicle (or on a carrier bed). If properly secured and a legal dimension load there is no greater hazard to the public than any other commercial motor vehicle, and therefore no need for extra warning lights such as amber beacons to be displayed while in motion. Further, it has been argued by many industry experts that the over use of amber warning beacons contributes to the public at large disregarding them, making them blend into the background "noise" and as such they have lost all effectiveness as warning lights.

 

As always, I love a good discussion as this is how we all learn from each other. Thank you for the opportunity to have this discussion.

 

EDIT: It has been brought to my attention that this graphic depicts Louisiana lighting requirements incorrectly. Louisiana allows display of amber beacons while in-tow with wheels on the ground. I have not been able to independently verify this as of today, 11/1/2019

Lighting Graphic.jpg

Edited by brian991219
add edit info on LA code

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Hi Brian … Good Morning All. Brian brings a well written rebuttal to the table. Thank you for your response. This topic of emergency lighting is one that leads to much thought as to what's proper and what isn't. I really like these intelligent discussions for the benefit of all involved. I'll also note that Brian put a lot of effort into his document and that’s very much appreciated. But, with it opens the door to interpretation as to what tow trucks should be doing when it comes to slow-sown move-over? I maintain a personal opinion that suggests, the number-one killer of tow truck operators and first responders is motorists failing to slow-down and move-over; NOT because they were blinded by emergency lights. I stand firm on my courtroom question that asks, "If you were blinded by emergency lights, did you ever lose control and crash into whatever activity was present?"

 

I continue to believe that tow trucks should continue their use of emergency lighting as allowed by your state laws ... not four-way flashers as argued while a tow truck is stationary or moving. My conclusion was partially made from Brian's narrative, responding to other state laws or working guidelines he may not be familiar with. As far as moths to the flame, without proof, it’s simply an exaggerated wives’ tale.

 

Brian's correct in his statement about other state's interpretation of highway protocol. Example: In, California Highway Patrol’s Freeway Service Manual, Chapter 4: Disabled Vehicles on Right Shoulder, Subsection 2b, it states, “Amber warning lights shall be off and four way flashers shall be on when a FSP service vehicle is parked on the right shoulder.” While there may be reasoning that the guideline exists, this particular guideline hasn’t been updated to reflect SDMO. And, as Brian mentions TRAA’s video regarding four-way flashers on-scene, I’d venture that it’s safe to say we'd all agree that, in order for SDMO to work, properly applied emergency lighting allows for two distinct factors; one, lights-on is the indication that SDMO solicits a required responds that motorists to slow-down and move-over, and two, lights-on provides much needed advanced emergency notice to approaching traffic. Would you all not agree?

 

Like other states, California’s FSP Manual is a living document meaning it is or can be periodically updated from time to time. Additionally, not all situations arising in the FSP program can be addressed in the manual. Accordingly the CHP state, "Therefore, sound judgment on the part of the FSP operator should always be used." My point in this questions if tow operators are aware that emergency lighting … not four way flashers, in most states, might be the means to legally initiate and announce the presence of tow trucks or emergency vehicles parked on highway shoulders or center dividers? By closely examining the narratives of most state laws, one may not find mention of four-way flashers, but, specific narrative authorizing use of emergency lighting, example, California’s vehicle code, Section 21809, in-part states, “a vehicle on a freeway approaching a stationary authorized emergency vehicle that is displaying emergency lights, a stationary tow truck that is displaying flashing amber warning lights, or a stationary marked Department of Transportation vehicle that is displaying flashing amber warning lights.” (There’s no mention of four-way flashers.)

 

Brian's graphic for California could be debatable based on California’s Vehicle Code 25268, “No person shall display a flashing amber warning light on a vehicle as permitted by this code except when an unusual traffic hazard exists.” Is it accurate to say, if the carrier is loaded and driving in traffic lanes, can amber lights be used? If a loaded carrier is driving at speed with its amber lights-on, and no hazard or unusual conditions exist, does that create an unusual traffic hazard?

 

And ... Brian's most accurate to state; “By contrast, emergency lighting is not regulated on the federal level, leaving it open for 50 or more different interpretations of what is safe and effective.” State, per state, the great debate continues in trying to define what defines emergency lights, four-way flashers, amber overhead flashing-ambers, or rotating lights? But, as long as I’m teaching highway safety to tow operators, I’ll continue to support the use of amber lighting when stationary on the shoulders; otherwise, a Plaintiff’s lame excuse will be … “How was I supposed to know that that was a tow truck?” The bottom-line? I believe that the proper amount of lighting provides great on-scene safety value to tow operators and first responders. And, no … that doesn’t include tow trucks that have 5-gazillion strobe-lights turned-on at the same time. I'd like to hear from the other personalities on this forum as to their opinions on this subject.     R.  


Randall C. Resch

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Randy, again thank you for keeping this discussion lively. I believe we are in agreement about more of this than we may disagree on, if at all. As you are advocating for using the proper amount of lighting, so am I. I believe we are in desperate need of reformed emergency lighting laws for all emergency and roadside vehicles, not just tow trucks.

 

To be perfectly clear - I do not advocate for using only your 4 way flashers when stationary. I also advocate for use of amber beacons when on the side of the road as a means to provide identification of the hazard that is present.

 

I do not advocate for using amber (or any other color) flashing/strobe/rotating lights when in motion unless you are either required to by your state law or are presenting a serious hazard to traffic such as being over width, unable to maintain highway speed or other extra special circumstances. And, when you are required to display amber flashing lights do not turn on every strobe in the county, just display the minimum that will comply with local laws. There is absolutely no reason to have 8 amber and white strobes flashing in your grill, beacons overhead and your running lights pulsing while towing a car on your wheel lift or carrier deck!

 

That said, until there is reform in the lighting regulations please comply with the applicable state laws. Your life, and possibly the financial future of your family depends on you doing your best to be safe and compliant with all regulations when performing your job.

 

I think it is time to have a uniform tow truck standard regarding lighting patterns, usage and even retro reflective materials similar to that used by ambulances and fire apparatus. Even with the differences in color coding of lighting among the states there is little chance of not recognizing an ambulance or fire truck for what it is. Tow trucks deserve that same recognition.

 

That said, the largest obstacle I see to this is the fact we are an industry of 35,000+ individual privately owned tow companies. We do not have a governing body that sets standards nor do we have any financial incentives to purchase vehicles with lighting that complies to a uniform standard even if we did. Most ambulances and fire apparatus comply voluntarily with federal lighting and retro reflective design standards so that they can be eligible for federal funding assistance on the purchase of the equipment.

 

Now, regardless of the reason why they comply, the take away for towing is that we need to stop thinking about bling and how many strobes, button hole, or penny lights we can cram on a truck and start thinking about effective patterns and the ability to control this lighting in zones as well as intensity. If we as an industry could adopt a uniform lighting standard it would go a long way towards convincing legislators to give us permission to use colors other than amber in the states that currently can't.

Edited by brian991219
clarify that I do support using beacons while on the roadside

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On 11/2/2019 at 1:27 PM, rreschran said:

Brian's graphic for California could be debatable based on California’s Vehicle Code 25268, “No person shall display a flashing amber warning light on a vehicle as permitted by this code except when an unusual traffic hazard exists.” Is it accurate to say, if the carrier is loaded and driving in traffic lanes, can amber lights be used? If a loaded carrier is driving at speed with its amber lights-on, and no hazard or unusual conditions exist, does that create an unusual traffic hazard?

Randy, this is a perfect example of states having contradictory laws and regulations. While you are 100% correct about the application of CVC 25268, my graphic legend symbol shows my interpretation of California rules to permit a tow truck to use amber flashing lights while servicing a disabled vehicle or while moving slower that the usual flow of traffic, which is why we have the carrier and turtle symbols on the map. The carrier (perhaps it should have been a different symbol such as a stop sign or Park indicator to prevent confusion) represents stationary use only and the turtle represents an exception when slow moving. I take my understanding of these permissions from CVC 25253 as cited in the notes to the article.

 

CVC 25253 reads as follows;

(a) Tow trucks used to tow disabled vehicles shall be equipped with flashing amber warning lamps.  This subdivision does not apply to a tractor-trailer combination.

(b) Tow trucks may display flashing amber warning lamps while providing service to a disabled vehicle.  A flashing amber warning lamp upon a tow truck may be displayed to the rear when the tow truck is towing a vehicle and moving at a speed slower than the normal flow of traffic.

(c) A tow truck shall not display flashing amber warning lamps on a freeway except when an unusual traffic hazard or extreme hazard exists.

 

I do like what you ask about a carrier driving at speed with it's beacons on, and I would agree that is a violation of both the letter and the spirit of the law. As for the "unusual traffic hazard" portion, that is a common theme in most state vehicle codes and is where most non-emergency vehicles draw their authority to use amber warning lights. While I understand the intent I wish it were more clearly defined in a uniform manner to stop the refuse trucks, snow plows and security vehicles from using amber beacons while on public property and not actually causing a unusual hazard.

 

Due to the many different sections of law, regulation and revised statues across the country I have found many contradictory regulations within the same state's rules. Example, I have to correct my interpretation for Louisiana as the section of their Revised Statues I based my opinion on is superseded by another section of law I was unaware of, and that did not turn up in my research. As you know from your years researching and opining on legal matters, there often are regulations buried in areas that seem to have no bearing on the subject at hand.

 

As always, I love the conversation and hope this stimulates the other members on this forum board to look into their local regulations for themselves and not just take my word for it! Can't wait to catch up in Atlantic City.

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