It’s well-known within the towing industry that the roadside can be a hazardous place to work. It’s sorrowing and difficult to think about the many lives that are lost as tow truck drivers are simply doing their jobs, and the story happens far too often – a tow operator is working on a disabled vehicle when an out-of-control car strikes them. Following the deaths of three Illinois State Police officers, Illinois decided to take action. Illinois Senators Tammy Duckworth and Richard Durbin asked the Government Accountability Office to look into Move Over Laws and create some recommendations.
What are Move Over Laws?
All states have some version of a “Move Over” law that requires drivers to slow down by about 15 miles an hour or move over a lane if they come across flashing lights. These laws are intended to keep first responders, law enforcement, and others who work on the side of the road safe.
However, a lot of people don’t believe these laws are truly effective when it comes to protecting those who work on roadsides – like tow truck drivers. The intent of the laws is good, so why aren’t these laws working the way they’re supposed to? They’re supposed to reduce the chance of injury or death, but that’s not always the case. A recent Tow Times article theorizes that this could be because people either don’t know about the laws or the laws are not being enforced well.
The same article states that by the count of Tow Times, 30 tow operators have died in roadside accidents in 2019 as of their September issue, and they add that the NIOSH says the fatality rate for tow operators is 15 times higher than other private industries in the United States. Those statistics are staggering.
Illinois leads the charge.
As we mentioned above, Illinois legislators have decided to do something about this. Senator Tammy Duckworth and Senator Richard Durbin asked the GAO to investigate Move Over laws to gain more insight into the state of these laws and how they’re working. US Representative Cheri Bustos (also of Illinois) and Senator Deb Fischer of Nebraska also included themselves on the letter that the two Illinois senators sent.
Illinois has faced many tragedies among their first responders, and they’ve added a lot of enforcement for Move Over, including drones. The state’s governor is expected to sign a bill that would increase fines for violating the Move Over Law. A first offense would be a fine of $250 (raised from $100) and a second offense would mean a fine of $750, while repeat offenders could face a fine of up to $10,000. The Illinois legislature has also approved making the offense a felony in certain situations.
An NPR article also noted that Illinois will have a Move Over Task Force to look into the issue. The article went on to explain that other driving-related issues, such as drunk or impaired driving and distracted driving, have taken precedence in the past. (But of course, both of these issues can contribute to roadside injuries and fatalities.) Acting State Police Director Brendan Kelly mentions that there are a few potential strategies to combat the issue, including law enforcement vehicles equipped with extra sensors or cameras and more strategic rumble strip placement.
At any rate, it’s clear that Illinois is ready to take a stand. But what exactly have these legislators asked the government to do?
What is the Government Accountability Office going to do?
In a letter to the Comptroller General of the United States, the senators asked the GAO to look into several things:
- The effectiveness of Move Over laws.
- The funding or assistance that’s available to states for educating drivers about the issue.
- The potential obstacles that could impede these laws – and how those states that have been successful with their Move Over law have cultivated that success
They have also asked the GAO to provide recommendations for what action should be taken, either at the agency or the Congressional level. That shows an openness to taking steps to help the situation and make the roadside safer for first responders.
This review should begin in the fall, and as of now it’s unclear how long the review will take or what information it will uncover (not to mention how helpful that information will be.) However, maybe this will start a new trend of interest and investigation into the issue. Now that the federal government has been asked to get involved, hopefully there will be more attention given to this pressing and tragic problem.
Parilla, Maria T. “Move Over Laws Under Federal Scrutiny.” Tow Times, Sept.
2019, pp. 53-54.