WSP: ‘slow down, move over’ after second death of tow truck driver

In four separate collisions since December, two Washington tow truck technicians have been killed, one required a leg amputation and another received lower body injuries as a result of being hit while assisting a disabled motorist. These tragedies highlight the danger to individuals who regularly work along the shoulders of our busy and congested roads.

Raymond Mitchell, 33, died Sept. 22, while retrieving a disabled vehicle on Interstate 5 near Kalama. He became pinned against the truck he drove for TLC Towing when the rear trailer of a passing logging truck swung into him. The Washington State Patrol (WSP) says speed was a factor in the crash, which took Mitchell from his wife and four children. Nearly five months earlier, on April 24, the owner of Affordable Towing, Art Anderson and the parents of the motorist he was helping, died near Kelso, along I-5. According to the WSP, the driver who ran into the three people was impaired.

As of August of this year, 15 tow providers have died while performing roadside rescues in 2021.

“Deaths like these can be avoided if drivers slow down, move over and give these people room to work safely,” said Kelly Just, AAA Washington’s manager of traffic safety programs. “We can’t stress enough the importance of paying attention so you have enough time to slow down and, if possible, change lanes when you see any emergency vehicle ahead of you on the road.”

An average of 24 emergency responders including tow providers are struck and killed by vehicles while working at the roadside each year – meaning someone in this line of work is killed, on average, every other week.

To protect these individuals, AAA and other traffic safety advocates have led the way in getting Move Over laws passed in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Startling new data from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety finds that:

Nearly a quarter of those surveyed (23 percent) are unaware of the Move Over law in the state where they live

Among those who are aware of their state’s Move Over laws, about 15 percent report not understanding the potential consequences for violating the Move Over law at all.

42 percent of drivers who fail to comply with Move Over laws all the time thought their behavior was somewhat or not dangerous at all to roadside emergency workers. This demonstrates that drivers may not realize how risky it is for those who work close to moving traffic.

Earlier this year, AAA Washington, in partnership with Clark County Fire District 6 and Chappelle’s Towing, LLC, released a Public Service Announcement (PSA) to remind the public of Washington’s Slow Down, Move Over law. TLC Towing was among the six private companies that helped create the video, along with WSDOT and WSP. When drivers approach the red flashing lights of first responders, tow trucks, municipal vehicles, utility vehicles and road maintenance crews, they must slow down to at least 10 miles per hour below the posted speed limit and, if safe to do so, move over one lane. Drivers who fail to do so face a $214 ticket that cannot be waived or reduced.

It’s not just tow providers and other emergency responders being killed on the side of interstates, freeways, expressways and highways. From 2015 through 2019, more than 1,600 people have been struck and killed while outside of a disabled vehicle, including 22 in Washington.

The reality is that drivers are increasingly distracted while driving. Previous AAA Foundation research has found that drivers are up to four times as likely to crash if they are talking on a cell phone while driving and up to eight times as likely to be in a crash if texting.

“If you see something, anything, on the shoulder ahead, slow down and move over,” said Just. “It could literally save someone’s life.”

To protect roadside workers, drivers with disabled vehicles, and others, and to improve highway safety, AAA offers these precautionary tips:

  • Remain alert, avoid distractions and focus on the task of driving.
  • Keep an eye out for situations where emergency vehicles, tow trucks, utility service vehicles or disabled vehicles are stopped on the side of the road.
  • When possible, move one lane over, away from the people and vehicles stopped at the side of the road.

For more information, visit AAA.com/SlowDown.