Basics of Towing 6: Safety at the Scene

Jan 8th, 2014 | By | Category: From our latest issue

By Edward D. Johnson, coliseum@verizon.net

Editor’s Note: The following article is a more in-depth version of the January issue Tow Times Learning Center topic: Safety at the Scene.

“Move-over” laws have become more popular across the nation as an attempt to reduce the number of police and roadside workers injured or killed by motorists who are inattentive to what is around them. The efficacy of these laws is questioned because of the lack of enforcement. Last year a police officer was struck and killed while providing traffic control outside a state fair even though he was wearing the proper vest, there were marked patrol cars on the scene with lights on, and road flares in use. Numerous questions arose as to why the young driver of the car who hit him did so since there was no evidence of her being under the influence of drugs or alcohol and seemed to be aware of what was around her. Questions arose as to whether she could not see the officer due to excessive lighting, which distracted her or if there were other things that kept her from seeing the officer.

In light of this incident and others around the country, we need to ask what we can do to improve our safety and that of others while providing highway services. While many drivers do not pay attention to what is going on around them or are so hurried that they do not drive safely, we need to consider why incidents like that of the police officer happen. Are we so intent on using lighting to warn of an incident that we actually distract drivers? Or are drivers blinded by the lighting? Is lighting being used in so many minor incidents that it is becoming so “every-day” that it no longer has a meaning to drivers? Unfortunately, no real studies have been conducted on how emergency lighting affects drivers as well as those who are working on roadways.

Situating the Truck

Upon arriving at the scene of a disabled vehicle, the first thing to do is situate your truck so it does not become a traffic hazard, but in a manner so it will protect you from oncoming drivers who are not paying attention. Turn the steering wheel in a direction that if the truck is struck it will be pushed away from you or other people. If you know the disabled vehicle will be towed, pull in front of the disabled vehicle so you will not have to resituate it later. If the job will not involve a tow, park the truck so it acts as a shield to protect you and others in the event another vehicle swerves into the scene.

Stay Visible

The only warning lights you should use are those that alert other drivers of your presence. Too many lights can distract or blind other drivers and keep them from noticing you. In recent years, there has been a trend to equip emergency vehicles with so many bright lights that people working around the vehicles may be camouflaged. Some light bars constantly change patterns and people are drawn to watch the lights rather than the emergency workers. Using only enough lighting to warn drivers is much better than distracting them. High-visibility clothing such as orange- or lime-colored vests in the daytime and retro-reflective vests during darkness should be worn at highway incidents. Your goal is to make sure that approaching motorists see you.

Protect the Customer

Most people are not experienced with the hazards of being on the road or roadside as they rarely have a car break down on them. After you make sure your truck is properly parked, move customers to a safe place to wait as you work with the disabled vehicle. When possible, have customers wait on the safe side of a guardrail or ditch where they cannot be hit by vehicles. Do not allow them to assist you as you work the scene.

Avoid Being Hit

If the vehicle is on the road and cannot be moved on its own, do not push it off the road, tow it. If you try pushing it off the road, you cannot see vehicles approaching from behind you and there is nothing to protect you from being hit. A number of years ago, a friend of mine was killed as he stood with his back to traffic and was cut in half by a vehicle that ran into him. Do not change a flat tire or perform a jump-start or other service on a road or narrow road shoulder.

Clear the Scene Quickly

Do not waste time analyzing what is wrong with the disabled vehicle if it is in a hazardous location. Tow it quickly to a safe place for servicing. Do this even if the customer is not asking for a tow, do it for your safety and the safety of others. This should be done even if you are not going to be paid for towing, your plan is to survive and wasting time analyzing a vehicle problem is not worth your life. The short time needed to tow a disabled vehicle off the road to a safe place for servicing is well worth the effort.