CHOKEPOINTS

Washington tow truck drivers beg state lawmakers for more protection on roads

Nov 23, 2021, 5:27 AM
Tow truck drivers...
Tow trucks lifting a semi-truck off the road. (WSDOT, Flickr Creative Commons)
(WSDOT, Flickr Creative Commons)

Do you move over a lane when you see a disabled car on the freeway? Do you move over a lane when there’s a tow truck or police officer there? Tow truck drivers are begging the Legislature for more protection after a deadly year on Washington’s roads.

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Cory Wells has been a tow driver for 31 years. He was pinned between his tow truck and the semi he was hooking up when a driver slammed into the back of the disabled big rig.

“I am a walking, talking ghost,” he told the Senate Transportation Committee last week.

Just six weeks ago, he lost a 33-year-old employee, who was recovering a car on I-5 near Kalama. Raymond Mitchell, a father of four, was killed when a log truck going a little too fast ran into his rig.

“I shouldn’t be here today,” Wells said as his voice quivered. “I shouldn’t be that emotional to you people, but I am. I love what I do, and I want to come home to my wife tonight. We need your help.”

Wells asked senators to imagine what it would be like to have 70 miles-per-hour traffic whizzing by them as they worked, with only inches between them and the traffic.

“We’re not just that guy across the street, we’re your neighbors,” Wells said, begging the committee for help. “We’re the guys that come out and rescue you when your cars breaks down. We’re those guys.”

Another tow truck driver, Art Anderson, was killed on I-5 near Kelso in April. He was helping a family with its disabled car when a suspected drunk driver slammed into them. Anderson and two members of the family were killed.

There have been two other injury crashes in Washington over the last year involving tow drivers working on the side of the road. AAA reports 24 tow truck drivers lose their lives on the job every year in America.

The Towing and Recovery Association of Washington is asking the Legislature for ways to improve safety, including the ability to use different colored lights on their trucks to make them more visible. They can use yellow or red lights now, but drivers like Wells want to have blue lights as well. He believes drivers will pay more attention to blue lights. They would only be able to use them when actively working a recovery.

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Wells believes drivers will be more likely to follow Washington’s “Slow Down, Move Over” law if they see blue lights ahead on the freeway.

He would also like to see drivers have the ability to put cameras in their trucks to record drivers who fail to obey the law, which could be used to fine the offending drivers, not unlike cameras in school bus paddles. Wells would also like funding for more signs informing the public on the “Slow Down, Move Over” law.

And since we’re talking about “Slow Down, Move Over,” do you know the law?

It requires that you move over a lane, if it is safe to do so, when passing any emergency or construction zone. That zone goes for 200 feet on either side of the area. If you can’t safely get over, you are required to slow your speed to 10 miles an hour below the posted speed limit.

It is a non-negotiable $214 fine, if you are ticketed.

While not required, I believe it’s just a good practice to get over, if you can, when passing any stopped car on the freeway.

Just put yourself in that broken-down driver’s shoes, what would you like other drivers to do?

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.

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Washington tow truck drivers beg state lawmakers for more protection on roads