Slow Down and Move Over!

They paid tribute by the hundreds. This was the rude reality back in November when Durham region ON, tow truck driver, Todd Burgess, 56, died on the job while helping a stranded driver out of a ditch after an early snowfall blanketed Ontario earlier than expected this year.

By Carter Hammet

Loved and respected across multiple communities, dozens of drivers lined the roads in tribute to their fallen friend.

When we think of first responders, we tend to think of the obvious: police, ambulance drivers, firetruck operators. But tow truck drivers are also first responders and it’s these guys who are among the first to respond to a road accident.

They often work on the side of the highway, maybe hitching a vehicle up for a tow, or perhaps changing a flat tire. Often underappreciated, sometimes even ridiculed as “car thieves with a license” tow truck drivers can be a lifeline for stranded motorists. And the fact that they work in all weather conditions, at all hours and often at risk means they deserve your respect.

The Canadian Automobile Association estimates that as many as 100 tow truck drivers perish annually from work-related accidents. Numbers in the United States are similar with at least one tow truck driver death estimated per week.

According to a study earlier this year from the US-based National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, workers in the vehicle towing industry face an on- the-job fatality risk almost 15 times greater than workers in all other private industries. With data analyzing the deaths of 191 towing operators between 2011 and 2016, researchers discovered that an annual rate of 42.9 deaths per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers (FTEs). Compare this information to 2.9 per 100,000 FTEs in all other industries.

Additionally, the study unearthed that “motor vehicle incidents were the leading cause of towing industry worker deaths, accounting for 64 percent. Contact with objects and equipment (17 percent) was second. Men accounted for 97 percent of all deaths.

All Canadian provinces now have variations of “move over” laws that require motorists to slow down and proceed with caution while passing an emergency vehicle parked on the side of the roadway with flashing lights.

In Nova Scotia, drivers are required to slow down to 60 kilometres per hour or to drive under the speed limit if it’s less than 60 km/h when they witness a first responder vehicle pulled over with lights flashing. If the emergency vehicle is stopped with lights flashing on the side of the highway with additional lanes available for traffic, drivers need to move into another lane further away from the stopped vehicle if safe to do so. Drivers, however, don’t need to slow down or move over if the vehicle happens to be on the other side of the median on a divided highway. Fines for not adhering to the law begin at $350 for a first offence, although this fine can be higher if the case goes to court. In PEI, you can be fined up to $1,000 and lose three demerit points.

By far the slowest out of the gate with move over laws is New Brunswick. Shamefully, the last province in the country to add emergency vehicles like snow plows and tow trucks was in the process of passing the law as of this writing. It’s supposed to become law December 20.

No question about it: winter can be an extremely stressful time for fighting off unexpected weather, dealing with road closures and idiots on the road. But while you’re processing all that, please take a moment to remember the role tow truck drivers play in the automotive ecosystem: they risk their lives on a daily basis to make your life easier. Happy New Year.

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