Stay Safe On the Shoulder (Or Off of It)

As some of you know, my husband works as a firefighter and EMS first responder.  As such, he responds to calls at all hours of the day and night.  He works to help people struggling to get up after a fall, those in need of medical transport, and those involved in accidents.  He loves helping others and he is great at his job.  What many people don't know is, years ago, he worked as a tow truck driver.

About a year ago, when a highway tragedy struck Richmond, Danny suggested, or rather instructed me, never to stop on the highway.  I wasn't really sure what the big deal was, thinking it might simply be a challenge to merge back into traffic.  Wrong.  "Instead of pulling over where you are," he suggested, "wait and get off on the nearest exit."

Image Source: clker

There are several reasons for this: 

1. It keeps you safest.  Staying in the car is safer than being outside of it, but being off the highway is, overall, the safest scenario.

2. It allows for plenty of room for assessing damage, checking tires, changing a flat.

3. Even in the slow lane, cars are driving a minimum of 60 mph.  Some areas in Virginia have a posted 70 mph speed limit.

4. If you need help and you're on the side of the highway, those who come to help you are also put at risk.  Police officers, EMS first responders, and tow truck drivers all respond to calls of accidents and incidents on the highway.  It may not have been something you've ever considered, but if you're in danger yourself, why risk putting someone else's life at risk?

He and I both understand there is potential risk involved with driving your car in certain conditions (damage to the wheels or axles), but from our perspective, the safety outweighs the potential monetary loss.

He also said that in his highway experience, from mainly the tow truck driving, but also the firefighting, stopping on the side of the road to help drivers/ citizens can be pretty scary for all involved.  Everyone thinks they are visible and pulled over far enough to be out of the way of passing traffic, but several times a year deaths occur as a result of a vehicle on the side of the highway.  Often times we hear about the injuries and deaths of police and firefighters, but we are rarely informed about tow truck driving fatalities.  According to a fairly (but understandably) angry/ strongly worded article by Randall C. Resch, published in American Towman magazine, in March 2006:

- "From January 2000 until December 31, 2005, approximately 130 tow operators in the U.S. were killed from tow related incidents or accidents. Of those killed, many were involved in service activities on the highway. As most crashes were deemed 'accidental' subsequent investigations revealed that the POI (Point of Impact) was in or near the slow-side traffic lane, near the shoulder's white fog line, or near the traffic-side controls of the tow truck."

- "Of approximately 130 operator deaths, nearly 20 tow operators were killed while loading vehicles, changing tires, sweeping, or otherwise working on the traffic-side of the emergency shoulder."

- "Approximately 35 tow operators died within the emergency lane, were struck from behind, standing as pedestrian workers, or, working underneath disabled vehicles when impact occurred. Of those scenarios, approximately 10 tow operators were struck by commercial trucks and approximately 12 by drivers who were allegedly DUI or hit and run."

These statistics are striking and deeply disturbing.  Sadly, however, to add to the final fact listed above, a DUI/ hit and run occurred in the Richmond, Virginia area this week.

On Thursday evening of this week, a tragic crash, involving an allegedly drunk driver, killed a 22-year-old tow truck driver; he had been towing a vehicle from a nearby highway when he was struck by an oncoming vehicle.  This sad story is devastating in so many ways.  The deceased young man had a life and a family.  The man who crashed his car did as well.  Without passing judgment on the driver, though it's understandably difficult not to do so, consider the impact this will have on the people who love him.  Now, though only one person died, both of their lives and the lives of their families have been forever altered.

Image Source: WTVR CBS News 6 in Richmond, VA
For the news story, click here.

I did not know either of these men personally.  I am deeply saddened by this accident.  To the families who have suffered as a result of this or similarly terrible tragedies, my heart goes out to you.  I am sorry for your loss and I hope peace will come to you.

Today's post is not specifically about the perils of driving under the influence, though the associated risks are great and always potentially deadly.  Instead, I hope to simply bring awareness to this issue, help prevent future occurrences, and give you something to consider:  If you ever find yourself in a situation where stopping on the side of the highway is an option, be mindful and choose another.

Also, if you see a vehicle on the side of the highway--whether being towed, pulled over, or dealing with some other issue--make room and get into the next lane.  Some states have laws regarding this, but it's good practice regardless.  If you have the chance, make room.

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