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How to protect tow truck drivers on the side of the road

The law is to “move over” and “slow down” in Michigan for first reponders

tow truck driver safety, image

There was recently a tragic accident that killed a popular tow truck driver in Port Huron, Michigan. Jason Schultz, 28, was hit and killed by an intoxicated driver as he was pulling a car out of a ditch in Clyde Township Jan. 15, according to an article in The Detroit Free Press. A toxicology report showed the at-fault driver who hit Jason had marijuana in his system.

Drugged driving and distracted driving are becoming more rampant as each day passes, greatly increasing the risks to everyone on the road. The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute provides a staggering example of the dangers of distracted driving: Texting takes an average driver’s eyes off the road for approximately 4.6 seconds, which is like driving the entire distance of a football field including the end zones – blindfolded.

Operating and positioning a tow truck on the side of the road is dangerous enough, with tow truck drivers being injured and killed every year by motorists who drive into the backs of stopped vehicles on shoulders of highways and roads.

It’s a scary world for a tow truck driver. Imagine the risks of pulling over to render assistance on the side of a busy freeway, attempting to clear an accident or tow a vehicle, all while cars are whizzing by, some being driven by texting, drunk and distracted drivers. Too many on the road are ignoring traffic laws that are meant to protect first responders and tow truck drivers.

According to accident data compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, injury and fatality rates among emergency responders – including tow truck drivers – are more than twice the national average for all industries. In 2005, 390 workers were killed in struck-by incidents, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), accounting for 7% of all fatal occupational injuries.

Michigan’s “move-over” law

Move-over laws require drivers traveling on multi-lane roadways to, when practical, merge away from a vehicle working on the side of the highway to provide an empty travel lane of safety for the worker. If not practical (either due to traffic volume or road design), the motorist must slow significantly below the posted speed limit while passing the roadside worker. This includes tow truck drivers.

In Michigan, our law that protects tow truck drivers is called the “Vehicle Caution Law,” originally implemented in 2001. It includes all law enforcement, emergency vehicles, first responders and tow truck drivers, also sometimes called “wreckers.”

The Michigan law (MCL 257.653a) says to slow down and change lanes whenever possible to give tow truck drivers room:

Stationary emergency vehicle giving visual signal; duty of approaching vehicle to exhibit due care and caution; violation; penalty.

Sec. 653a.

1.Upon approaching and passing a stationary authorized emergency vehicle that is giving a visual signal by means of flashing, rotating, or oscillating red, blue, or white lights as permitted by section 698, the driver of an approaching vehicle shall exhibit due care and caution, as required under the following.

(a) On any public roadway with at least 2 adjacent lanes proceeding in the same direction of the stationary authorized emergency vehicle, the driver of the approaching vehicle shall proceed with caution and yield the right-of-way by moving into a lane at least 1 moving lane or 2 vehicle widths apart from the stationary authorized emergency vehicle, unless directed otherwise by a police officer. If movement to an adjacent lane or 2 vehicle widths apart is not possible due to weather, road conditions, or the immediate presence of vehicular or pedestrian traffic in parallel moving lanes, the driver of the approaching vehicle shall proceed as required in subdivision

(b) On any public roadway that does not have at least 2 adjacent lanes proceeding in the same direction as the stationary authorized emergency vehicle, or if the movement by the driver of the vehicle into an adjacent lane or 2 vehicle widths apart is not possible as described in subdivision (a), the approaching vehicle shall reduce and maintain a safe speed for weather, road conditions, and vehicular or pedestrian traffic and proceed with due care and caution, or as directed by a police officer.

If you violate Michigan’s move over law for first responders

If you violate the law, punishment can result in a misdemeanor, a fine of up to $500 and/or up to 90 days in jail.

If you violate the law and cause injury to a police officer, firefighter, or other emergency response personnel such as a tow truck driver in the immediate area of the stationary authorized emergency vehicle, you can be found guilty of a felony punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and/or imprisonment of up to two years.

If you cause death to a first responder, you can be found guilty of a felony punishable by a fine of up to $7,500 and/or imprisonment for up to 15 years.

Safety tips for tow truck drivers

Here are some safety tips to keep in mind for the well-being of tow truck drivers.

1.    Look out for cones or emergency lights.
2.    Move over and change lanes if you can.
3.    Slow down.

It’s that easy.

If you need more convincing, here’s a video that shows the point of view of tow truck drivers, when people do not slow down and move over in traffic as they’re attempting to help accident victims and clear an accident scene:

Remember that these are men and women who put their lives on the line to help people. They go out and do their jobs in inclement weather, after serious car accidents with debris fields strewn all over. All first responders – tow truck drivers, police, ambulance drivers and EMT crews must be protected.

Next week, I’ll address some frequently asked questions about what do to in certain traffic situations when emergency personnel and tow truck drivers are on the side of the road.

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Blog Author Steven M. Gursten
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