We would all like to think that the new laws are having a beneficial effect. I notice, as I drive local highways in our area, that motorists are more aware of the need to slow down and move over as they pass a police, fire, or medical vehicle, or a tow truck on the side of the road. Even a disabled vehicle on its own, with no first responder, is a signal to approaching motorists to switch lanes. So the evidence is also there that the law is improving motorist awareness and changing their behavior.
Of course, it’s not the observant motorist that we really need to worry about, is it? It’s the motorist who is looking at their phone, or who is otherwise distracted, who poses the big threat.
I believe in the power of positive thinking. I believe that we can influence others with the energy we project. Some believe in the power of prayer. I have to admit, however, that as far as I can see, the evidence is NOT there that a first responder can influence the behavior of motorists by how passionately they feel about Slow Down Move Over laws in those moments that they are working an accident or helping a motorist. So, while our work to spread the word about Slow Down Move Over is necessary, what is also necessary is effective training for first responders, especially for tow truck drivers, who must undertake tasks requiring both mental and physical focus while at the same time trying to preserve their life and health in a dangerous work setting.
One concern I have is that all of the attention given to Slow Down Move Over might actually give workers a false sense of security. Picture yourself hooking up to a vehicle on a highway, with no police or DOT vehicle to assist with blocking traffic. The motorist has limped their vehicle mostly out of the lane of traffic. The rear driver-side corner of the vehicle is just barely hanging over the white line. You’re driving a carrier, so you can angle the truck a little to keep it farther away from the traffic lane, but as some point, you’re probably going to be walking perilously close to the lane of traffic during the loading process.
One nice thing about carrier design is that there are controls on both sides of the bed. Also, since you’re approaching the attachment points from the front of the towed vehicle, you don’t have to stand to the side of the vehicle and attach a wheellift strap. A vehicle on a carrier bed doesn’t require tow lights. So, if you really want to be careful, you can avoid stepping into the traffic lane, or even walking close to it. You could use passenger-side tiedowns only, get off the highway, and then complete the tiedown process.
Also, as you prepare to attach a bridle to the vehicle suspension to pull it onto the bed, you can look over the vehicle at approaching traffic and select a gap in the traffic as a good time to bend down and attach the bridle. If, God forbid, some distracted or impaired driver wandered over the line and was headed for the vehicle you’re attempting to tow, you might have enough time to vacate that space between the vehicle and your lowered truck bed.
Now, instead of being vigilant, let’s imagine that you pull up to the scene, and you expect Slow Down Move Over to make you safe, so you park at a different angle, with the front left corner of your truck a few inches into the traffic lane. You get out and lower your bed, using the driver-side controls. You stroll with carefree indifference up and down the traffic side of your truck and the vehicle you are towing. When you are facing oncoming traffic, you don’t look ahead to time your action with traffic gaps, and when you’re not facing oncoming traffic, you don’t turn to look or walk backward so that you can keep an eye on it. Hey, they’re suppose to slow down and move over, right? That traffic lane is your workspace, and they have to respect it, even if they don’t respect any fellow motorist enough to save their texting for home, work, or at least a parking lot.
I understand that the extreme example I’ve given is rare, and that any towing professional who regularly engaged in that sort of carelessness wouldn’t make a habit of it – not for long, anyway. But I still worry, because a false sense of security is no security at all.
The best thing for each of us to focus on is what we control. Unfortunately, we don’t control anyone else behind the wheel.