Emergency responders who help stranded drivers on the side of the road are struck and killed nearly four times more than reported. A new study by the AAA Foundation for Safety reveals a disturbing picture of the dangers of helping stranded drivers.
AAA Foundation researchers combed through the data and uncovered 123 roadside assistance providers killed in the U.S. by passing vehicles between 2015 and 2021, nearly four times the approximate 34 killed listed in national crash data. The discrepancy is due to inconsistent reporting in states and jurisdictions, including times when some roadside workers are identified as “pedestrians.”
The research also notes that while yearly total traffic fatalities increased significantly over the study period, the data suggest that roadside assistance provider fatalities increased even more.
We all need to do better to keep our roadside workers safe. Many of these crashes can be avoided if drivers keep their attention on the road ahead, and comply with Slow Down Move Over laws when they see emergency providers. roadside assistance workers, highway work crews, and/or stranded vehicles on the side of the road,” says Marie Dodds, public affairs director for AAA Oregon/Idaho.
According to data from the Oregon Department of Transportation, there were 207 crashes involving vehicles parked off the road in Oregon from 2016 through 2020. These crashes resulted in 7 fatalities, 13 serious injuries, and 164 moderate and minor injuries. One hundred crashes were property damage only. Fifty (47%) of those crashes involved heavy/medium trucks. https://www.oregon.gov/odot/safety/pages/enforcement.aspx
AAA urges action on several fronts:
- Slow down, Move Over: Reinforce these life-saving laws, reminding drivers to give space to ANYONE (including but not limited to roadside assistance, police, fire, EMS) working on the side of the road. Every ounce of awareness could be the difference between life and death.
- Shield the Vulnerable: Utilize countermeasures to prevent vehicles from striking workers. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety previously examined vehicle-mounted electronic variable message signs and found them effective at alerting drivers to slow down and move over. AAA Oregon/Idaho is investing in these signs for its Fleet vehicles.
- Train for survival: Teach roadside workers to prioritize work away from traffic and equip them with strategies to avoid harm’s way. Training for roadside assistance providers should emphasize the importance of not working or standing on the traffic-facing side of the incident whenever possible and minimize time spent on the traffic-facing side of the scene.
AAA and other traffic safety advocates have helped get Slow Down Move Over laws passed in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. However, driver awareness and compliance are inconsistent. With highway speeds often 65 mph or more, drivers may find it difficult to spot and react to incident response personnel, including tow truck drivers, police, and emergency responders.
In Oregon, drivers must move over to another lane or slow down at least five miles per hour below the posted speed limit when approaching first responders (police fire, and ambulance), tow trucks, municipal and road maintenance vehicles, utility vehicles, as well as any vehicle that is stopped and is displaying warning or hazard lights, or a person is indicating distress by using emergency flares or posting emergency signs. The fine for a violation is $265 or $525 if within a safety corridor, school zone or work zone. (ORS 811.147) https://www.oregon.gov/odot/safety/pages/enforcement.aspx
“Helping stranded drivers on the side of the road should not be one of America’s most deadly jobs but it is. AAA service techs and other emergency responders are often only inches away from vehicles traveling at highway speeds. As drivers, we all need to do better at remaining alert, avoiding distractions, and focusing on the task of driving,” says Dodds. “Please slow down and move over every time you see a vehicle, person, or warning lights on the shoulder ahead. You could literally be saving someone’s life.”
The AAA Foundation’s research reinforces the importance of the Safe System Approach (SSA) to transportation planning. The SSA is a way of utilizing engineering and behavioral countermeasures that are effective at preventing traffic crashes and the injuries that can result from them. The AAA Foundation study results suggest that full compliance with Slow Down Move Over laws isn’t enough. States also must address factors including speed, impaired driving, and distraction that lead to road departure crashes.