Safety responders are asking drivers to follow the law to prevent unnecessary deaths.
California’s “Move Over, Slow Down” law, which took effect on July 1, 2007, states that motorists on the freeway must move to the next lane when there is a safety response vehicle adjacent to their lane. If they are unable to do so, they must slow down to a safe speed when passing the vehicle.
An amendment to the law became effective in January 2010, increasing the fine from $50 to over $200. Drivers who do break the law may also receive a point on their driving record.
Almost every state, except Hawaii and Washington, D.C., has implemented a “Move Over” law. California extends this law to protect tow truck drives, however, this is not the case in every state.
According to tow truck drivers, the law may be in place, but drivers are unaware of it. A national poll sponsored by the National Safety Commission estimates that 71 percent of Americans don’t know about these laws.
“So many tow truck drivers get killed because people don’t follow the law,” said Andrea Tomassi, president of the Bay Area based Finish Line Towing, Inc.
There are an estimated 60 tow truck operators killed every year, according to the Tow Truck Association of America.
One of these deaths occurred on Highway 50 near El Dorado Hills on Feb. 7. Michael Sanders, 27, was assisting a private bus that had run out of gas when a white van struck the vehicle. The van collided with the rear, left side of the bus before hitting Sanders.
“The person was actually driving on the shoulder when they hit [Sanders],” said Larry Moniz, owner of Ace in the Hole Towing in Roseville, where Sanders worked.
Sanders had been part of Ace in the Hole Towing for only a month, but he had been in the towing industry for four years.
A funeral procession for Sanders was led on Feb. 18 by 162 tow trucks from all over the state.
Moniz said that he hopes the procession has brought awareness about the “Move Over” law.
“When the ‘Move Over’ law passed, as far as I know, there were zero publications and zero interest [in educating drivers],” Moniz said. “The state, with its current crisis, has not spent time at all on advertisement.”
Many of the states, including Oklahoma and Texas, have signs posted on the roads, telling motorists to move over for emergency vehicles.
“There are sign boards in California telling drivers to ‘hang up your phone and drive’,” Moniz said. “This, too, is a roadway law. Why isn’t it posted here?”
Moniz is currently working on an unofficial appeal to the governor for more effort in educating the public about this and other new laws that the state creates and implements every year.
Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) spokesperson Steve Haskins said that while the DMV collects fines and manages vehicle registration, it is not responsible for the implementation of the law.
“While we have the laws posted on the website, it is the [California Highway Patrol (CHP)] that handles all of the enforcement,” Haskins said.
The DMV has no authority over the matter, Haskins said. CHP officials were not available to comment.
As for public education, the “Move Over” law is slowly gaining recognition.
“When Mike was killed, it became a big issue,” Moniz said. “Now it’s in all the towing magazines, showing what the different states are doing about this law.”
Meanwhile, tow truck drivers continue to look out for their own safety.
“We have information and safety meetings with all our employees, and we tell everybody the same thing,” Tomassi said. “When you go to a scene, you always need to keep a look out.”
Drivers are taught to operate their trucks safely and to look for an escape route in case of an emergency.
“Cars are going so fast that you only have a split second to make a decision,” Tomassi said.
Tomassi said that she always sees reports of truck drivers getting hurt or killed because of careless drivers.
“I look through these articles, and I think ‘here’s another one, and here’s another one,'” Tomassi said.
On Monday, a tow truck operator was killed while working on I-95 in Etna, Maine. The operator was helping a tractor-trailer that broke down when he was struck by a silver Honda Civic driving on the adjacent lane.
SARAHNI PECSON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.