PORTLAND, OR -- New studies from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reveal just how dangerous it is to be stranded on the side of the road. Researchers say 60% of first responders and tow workers have experienced a roadside near-miss and 15% have survived being hit by a passing vehicle.
Tow truck driver Cody Bentley knows the risk all too well. He's witnessed numerous examples of drivers not obeying the "Slow Down, Move Over" law, including his own near-miss while helping a woman who had broken down in bad weather. "Another motorist came around that corner traveling much too quickly for conditions and she slid right into the vehicle," he tells KBND News, "Fortunately we heard tires squealing as she was sliding, so we all kind of jumped out of the way."
In that case, no one was hurt. But thousands more aren't so lucky. Between 2016 and 2020, more than 1,700 Americans were killed while outside a disabled vehicle; ten of those in Oregon. An average of two emergency responders are struck and killed every month in the U.S., including tow truck drivers. "I would treat every vehicle on the roadside as if somebody’s about to hop out of the door and possibly be in your lane," says Bentley.
Evey state has its own version of "Slow Down, Move Over." In Oregon, drivers are required to reduce their speed and change lanes, if possible, when going past a vehicle on the side of the road with flashing lights or other signs of distress. But the AAA Foundation found flashing lights, cones and flares caused drivers to change lanes but not slow down. Bentley - now a Safety and Training Specialist for AAA-Oregon - says most people will move over if they see law enforcement on the side of the road, but not other emergency vehicles or a disabled motorist, "I think it comes down to: people don’t want to get a ticket, essentially. But I wouldn’t say the ‘Slow Down, Move Over’ rule has - I wouldn’t count on that one bit to have made a difference in our safety, day to day."
The AAA Foundation found vehicle-mounted digital signs work best in getting people to obey the law. Bentley says that's why drivers who break down need to take precautions before that help arrives, "Think of your safety, your passenger’s safety, because you’re really the one who’s looking out for yourself. So, get as far off the road as you can."
For drivers passing disabled vehicles at highway speeds, he adds, "Whether it’s a tow driver or a construction zone or even just someone who’s broken down, I would recommend: be considerate, imagine it’s yourself in that position and react accordingly."
File photo courtesy AAA-Oregon