BOISE – In the course of their work, tow technicians and other first responders are exposed to the serious risk of being struck and killed at the roadside. And according to new research by AAA, the problem may be worse than originally feared.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety recently uncovered 123 incidents of roadside assistance workers killed by passing vehicles between 2015 and 2021, nearly four times the approximate 34 listed in conventional crash data. The discrepancy is due to inconsistent reporting by different states and jurisdictions, including occasions where some workers were recorded as “pedestrians.”
“There’s no question that more should be done to protect our roadside workers and first responders. For every person who is struck and killed by a passing car, other highway heroes suffer devastating injuries or experience frightening near misses, to say nothing of significant damage to their vehicles,” says AAA Idaho public affairs director Matthew Conde. “It will take an ‘all in’ approach to get the number of deaths down to zero.”
AAA’s key findings
While yearly total traffic deaths increased significantly over the study period, the data suggest that roadside assistance provider fatalities (as a percentage) likely increased even more.
“The fact that so many of these incidents occurred during daylight hours and in good weather serves as a reminder that safety is an around-the-clock commitment,” Conde said. “Every state has a Slow Down, Move Over law that requires drivers approaching a stationary emergency vehicle with flashing lights to slow down below the speed limit and, if possible, move over at least one lane to allow more room for roadside workers to safely do their job.”
In addition to observing Slow Down, Move Over laws, AAA urges courtesy for all stranded motorists and disabled vehicles, whether covered by a state’s specific law or not. AAA Idaho is also investing in vehicle-mounted electronic variable message signs for its Fleet vehicles, which previous AAA research has found effective at alerting other drivers.
“Every second that a tow truck technician or first responder spends in harm’s way elevates their risk of being struck by a passing vehicle,” Conde said. “We hope that our research will reinforce training that minimizes working or standing on the traffic-facing side of an incident whenever possible, and what to do if another car gets too close.”
The AAA Foundation’s research underscores the importance of the Safe System Approach to transportation planning. Because humans make mistakes, ongoing investments in training, technology, and appropriate enforcement are needed to help keep everyday roadside heroes safe. However, the focus cannot be on Slow Down, Move Over alone – speed, impaired driving, and distraction of any kind can lead to road departure crashes.
AAA’s Move Over for Me campaign reminds the driving public that roadside workers are real people with families who deserve to make it home safe.
Please click on the link for roadside worker BROLL