Tow truck drivers, emergency roadside put lives on the line when providing assistance

tow truck recovery(© kasarp –

Roadside assistance providers put themselves at risk to help others every day. A new study from AAA shows the number of tow truck drivers, mobile mechanics and other technicians, face major danger working on the side of the road, and the number of fatal crashes involving them is on the rise.

AAA Foundation researchers found 123 roadside assistance providers killed by passing vehicles between 2015 and 2021. National crash data shows a much lower number: 34.

The discrepancy, according to AAA, is due to a persistent failure of state crash report forms to capture that crash victims were roadside assistance providers and were instead often recorded as pedestrians.

While yearly total traffic fatalities increased significantly over the study period, the data suggest that roadside assistance provider fatalities increased even more.

“Understanding the circumstances and causes for fatal crashes involving roadside workers is vital if we are serious about saving lives,” said Dr. David Yang, president and executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “Many of these crashes can be avoided if drivers focus on driving and observe the law by slowing down and moving over when they see roadside assistance providers performing their duties.”

Some of the findings of the study:

89 percent of the crashes occurred at locations with 55 mph or higher speed limits, almost all on interstates or other limited-access highways
84 percent of crashes occurred in good weather without precipitation or slippery road conditions
63 percent occurred during darkness, of which nearly two-thirds were at locations without street lighting
34 percent of the crashes were in daylight
More than one-third of striking drivers tested positive for alcohol

In Virginia, a new law enacted in 2023 requires drivers to slow down and move over, if possible, whenever passing a stationary vehicle displaying emergency lights, hazard lights, flares or an emergency sign like a reflective triangle.

“Let’s remember this study is about real people, not statistics,” said Jake Nelson, AAA’s traffic safety and advocacy director.  “It’s a shared responsibility to solve this safety challenge.  Roadside workers and all of us who drive by them have to take action to move towards zero traffic deaths.”


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