Jesse Stauffer, manager at Larry’s Towing in Orem, hates talking about tow truck driver safety, because he doesn’t want to jinx himself or his drivers.
According to information from the International Towing and Recovery Hall of Fame and Museum, an estimated 40 and 60 tow operators are struck and killed each year in the United States.
The Stauffer family has been tow truck drivers for three generations now with no deaths, and Jesse Stauffer hopes to keep it that way.
As he explained it this week, the problem is drivers do not slow down or move over for tow truck drivers or construction workers, even when they are working on the side of the freeway or highway. He believes part of it is because tow trucks and construction vehicles sport amber flashing lights, instead of the red and blues on police and fire vehicles.
“I feel like generally the public has been ruined, the general public is too accustomed to seeing amber lights, and they don’t move over,” Stauffer said.
Similar to refusing to slow down and move over when a police car or fire engine is parked on the side of the road, it is actually against the law to refuse to do so for tow trucks or construction vehicles. Signs explaining this dot the freeway, but Stauffer said the only way this is enforced is when police see this happen — which is rare.
“We try to everything we can to protect our drivers. We always encourage our drivers to work the controls on the passenger side of their trucks,” he said. “We’re always kind of doing our job in fear on the side of the road.”
Stauffer wishes the general public understood that tow truck drivers and construction workers — those straddling that dangerous white line on the roadside — all have families they want to go home to at night.
The Omadi team in Lehi wanted this as well, so they released a video campaign this month to raise driver awareness. The “Slow Down Move Over” video depicts the sacrifice tow operators make every day, as they work dangerously close to speeding cars. The clip closes with a tow truck driver greeting his family at home after work.
“This video was to raise awareness, to humanize tow truck drivers and remind people they have families too,” said James Kunzler, Omadi marketing specialist.
“Too many people don’t understand that tow truck drivers are in that same category as first responders,” added Brandon Petersen, marketing director for Omadi.
Tow operators are in a unique situation when working on accident recovery, Petersen said. Tow drivers must be in front of the situation, so they cannot see what might be coming from behind. When the situation involves semitrailers, it can be even more dangerous. Stauffer said. He’s responded to semitrailer calls when the safety triangles drivers place in intervals behind their trucks aren’t there, because cars have hit them.
“And to access the drivetrain, we’re laying under the truck. We don’t know what’s coming,” Stauffer said.
Omadi, a software company that helps tow companies digitally streamline their dispatching, created the campaign and short film in partnership with Utah Highway Patrol, Gold Cross Ambulance, Larry’s Towing and Utah Valley Mortuary.
They timed the video to coincide with the national Spirit Ride campaign, which pays tribute to first responders who lost their life working the white line. During the national Spirit Ride tour, a flatbed tow truck ferries a casket in a procession of tow operators in their trucks. By year’s end, the Spirit Casket will visit more than 300 cities.