The Move Over Law: What Tow Truck Operators Should Know
October 20, 2023
Tow truck operators should always prioritize safety on the side of the highway. Despite flashing lights on the side of the road, sometimes tragedy strikes as some passing drivers may not leave enough space between them and the emergency vehicle.
Unfortunately, most drivers on the road are unfamiliar with ‘move over laws’ that specifically urge drivers to decrease speed and/or move into the adjacent lane to give a safe buffer to roadside assistance operators.
According to the National Safety Commission, 71% of Americans are not familiar with their state’s move over laws. There’s also no current federal move over law, and laws differ per state.
To learn more about National Move Over Law Day this October, we had two subject matter experts weigh in:
- Shelli Hawkins, Director of Market Engagement at TRAXERO with 13 years of experience in towing industry sales
- Angela Roper Barnett, executive director of multiple towing associations and a fierce advocate for the safety of the towing industry
What Tow Truck Operators Should Know
Barnett shares that most tow operators know that most drivers don’t follow the slow-down move over law. Moreover, she adds that a towing operator is killed roadside every four to six days.
“Every state has a slow down, move over law. Not all states include towing operators in that law. It may be that they have emergency vehicles listed, but towing operators in most states are not considered emergency vehicles as protection,” Barnett said. So drivers must also pay special attention to tow operators when driving.
Every state depicts how drivers should move over, from the driver requirements to the penalties. Conversely, Barnett believes “it should be the same as whatever your DUI or DWI laws are, if not worse.”
According to Barnett, as of January 1, 2023, there have been 29 responder deaths, with 14 of those being towers. At this time, only deaths are tracked and not non-fatalities.
How To Stay Safe
Your safety is your most important tool as a towing operator. Unquestionably, doing your part in staying safe will help both you and the driver you’re helping stay out of harm’s way. “Keep your head on a swivel,” said Barnett about being roadside.
Before leaving your tow truck, do the following:
- Put on your safety vest or uniform with reflective gear
- Turn on your emergency lights
- Park properly and as close to the shoulder area as possible
- Look out before you swing your door open
- Make sure to never turn your back on traffic
Barnett recommends that towers take the federal government’s free training called Traffic Incident Management Training, or TIM. You can also visit ResponderSafety.com for 20-minute training modules.
“Take all the safety training you can get,” she said. “It’s not just one thing to go out there and simply hook up a car, put it on the back of the bed and take off. You have to know not just your job of towing and recovering, but you have to know all the safety factors to keep you alive.”
Spread the word. Start conversations with your customers, children, family, and friends about knowing where to stand and where not to stand. Let them know to be very aware of their surroundings, roadside, day and night.
Consequently, every effort and conversation can help prevent the approximately 60 towing operators’ deaths annually. If a car hits you, report your injury at ResponderSafety.com to help keep numbers updated. The federal government funds it to track and improve the move over statistics of the tow truck industry.
Move Over Laws By State
All 50 states have some version of a move over law. In some states, you must move to the next lane, like in Iowa, but it’s not required in Mississippi. In Indiana, drivers are required to go 10 miles per hour slower than the posted speed limit and change lanes if passing a roadside assistance vehicle.
Emergency vehicles include ambulances, fire trucks, police and sometimes, tow truck operators, depending on the state. North Carolina expanded its law in 2012 to utility and maintenance operators as well.
Furthermore, penalties also vary per state. In 2021, Arizona passed House Bill 2294, which increased the maximum fine from $250 to $1,000 if drivers do not move at least one lane over or slow down for vehicles with flashing lights. This is an increase from the initial law passed in 2005; about 23 highway workers per month were dying. For example, in Chicago, you can face up to a $10,000 penalty if you fail to move over or slow down near an emergency vehicle.
However, enforcement is key to success and saving lives, said Barnett. “We need these to be enforced. It’s great to have a $10,000 fine. You’re gonna hit them where it counts. However, if it’s not enforced and you don’t catch them, it kind of defeats the purpose. This is a battle that we, as an industry, fight when it comes down to this law.”
National Move Over Law Day In October
National Move Over Law Day, observed every third Saturday of October, raises awareness about this law. Consequently, more motorists stay focused on the road and slow down near emergency and roadside responders.
States participate on this day, including DOT, National Towing Association, and other emergency agencies like fire departments and police. Barnett is heavily involved and in contact with lobbyists to continue improving the move over laws and of course, launch National Move Over Law Day.
“I didn’t want to just gather when someone dies. Let’s do something preemptive, let’s do something good to create that awareness for everyone. That was the ultimate goal,” she said.
The International Towing Museum in Chattanooga, TN shows much compassion for the victims.
“Chattanooga is the heart and soul of the towing industry. It’s where the tow truck was invented in 1917,” said Hawkins. “We are an industry that is deeply compassionate about helping others on the roadside. Ninety-five percent of the businesses in the towing industry are family-owned businesses.”
Every year, people come together to memorialize towing operators that have passed away at the Wall of the Fallen. The wall was unveiled in 2006 to bring awareness to the dangers in the towing and recovery industry. “It’s not unlike a firefighter memorial wall. It’s the same premise,” said Barrett. “We put on a ceremony. It is very touching and very hard to attend.”
How To Get Involved
The best way for towing operators to get involved is to educate themselves on crucial safety measures they can take. Towing associations can partner with different agencies to create awareness and work with legislators, lobbyists, and highway safety administration to enforce laws and increase penalties.
If there is a tragedy, submit an application to honor that person to the International Towing Museum survivor fund. The survivor fund gathers contributions from associations, individuals, and corporations to offer support to families of towing operators killed in the line of service. It is currently self-sustaining. It pays $9,000 for a museum member to the family, or it will pay $7,000 to a non-member after an application process.
Stay Safe On The Road
To stay alive on the road, you must use your safety tool kit and stay aware of your surroundings. Stay informed about your local state laws and your protection as a recovery operator. Then get involved in continuing to enforce move over laws in your area to improve the safety of the industry and drivers alike.
“I want us protected. I want to make sure that when these conversations are taking place on how we protect our responders, towers are at that table. We have a voice and that voice is going to be heard. It’s about saving our lives,” Barnett said.
Move Over Law FAQs
What is the Move Over Law?
The Move Over Law is a law for drivers to decrease speed and/or move into the adjacent lane to give a safe buffer to roadside assistance operators. There is no federal move over law, so the move over law is up to each state.
What states have the Move Over Law?
All 50 states have some version of a move over law, but the law itself and the penalties for breaking the law differ from state to state.
In some states, drivers have to change lanes when passing a road assistance vehicle. Other states mandate you have to reduce your speed. For some, it’s a combination of the two.
Fines for breaking the move over law also vary. In some states, it’s a few hundred dollars while in others it can be $10,000.
Are tow trucks emergency vehicles?
Whether or not tow trucks are considered emergency vehicles depends on the state. Not all states include towing operators in the move over law.