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Towers are required by law to comply with towing and transport tie-down processes. In his photo-seminar, “Towing and Transport Tie-Down Compliance,” American Towman Operations Editor Randall Resch discusses methods and techniques commonly used by today’s tow truck operators that creatively comply with or constantly violate the law. This Towing & Recovery Conference seminar will take place at Tow Expo-Dallas, August 16-18, at the Gaylord Texan Resort & Conventions Center in Dallas, Texas.

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American Towman Magazine Presents the Week in TowingMay 16 - May 22, 2018
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Total Safety Compliance is a Process

1 cb03dBy Randall C. Resch

I responded to an email that posed a flurry of safety questions regarding loading or towing from the shoulders of a highway. The writer's questions were, "When a vehicle is on the left-side of the highway and a tow driver has to use controls on the traffic-side because that's where the controls are ... how much time does he or she spend there working the controls? ... What's the total range of minutes for that job? If it's less than one-minute, can the driver wait for no cars coming and work for five seconds at a time, look again to see if it's clear, then hide and waits again until another clearing takes place? Can they do this for 10-minutes if it doesn't take longer than that and until the job gets done?"

These are all great questions and here's my combined response. I believe two of the most obvious reasons that tow trucks or tow operators are struck is because, one, they're working the traffic-side of the tow truck or carrier, and two, when the tow and load process takes too long by increasing their exposure or possibility of being struck. The longer towers remain in the same place, the odds increase that they'll be struck. Although, tow operators can play the "Peek a Boo" game, that's a very dangerous practice that's resulted in numerous operator strikes.

I believe tow operators must use common sense in determining if location scenarios are too dangerous and what techniques should be used. In a perfect world, a typical tow/load scenario shouldn't take more than seven to 10 minutes to be ready to roll.

Where a shoulder location is deemed dangerous, by working quickly towers have a couple of options:

1. For carrier operators, once the vehicle is loaded and the deck is stowed forward for transport, from the non-traffic side, climb up the carrier's deck and attach all top-side chains and ratchet straps. Although it gets the tower off the pavement and away from the traffic-side, this is a dangerous practice as there's literally no place to go if the carrier were to be impacted. Worst scene scenarios suggest the tower would be crushed between the headache rack, by the vehicle atop the carrier's deck, or swept off the side. Tow owners don't like this option as it could minimally lead to slip and fall.

2. Better: Load or attach the disabled vehicle using safe and efficient techniques to avoid working/standing on the traffic side. Next, drive the tow truck or carrier forward and into a clearer, safer area to attach remaining safety chains and ratchet straps. This technique provides additional safety room if there's room to be had, but increases time spent on-scene.

3. Best: Load or attach minimal safety chains and ratchet straps using non-traffic side techniques, place the vehicle in-park and in-gear, and then carefully tow or transport it to the first off-ramp where remaining safety chains and straps can be applied.

Note: Technique No. 3 is where tower's get into trouble when they don't stop to apply remaining straps or chains and continue to drive to their intended destination. This option is only intended to load or tow the vehicle forward to a safer location or off-the-highway, not to disregard applying all safety attachment devices or accessories. Technique No. 3 makes best sense when asking, "Is it reasonable or prudent for a pedestrian worker to stand in a traffic-lane or dangerously close to approaching traffic?"

Tow operators are bound by vehicle code law and industry best practices to employ appropriate four-point tie-downs for carriers, ratchets and hold-down straps, as well as required safety chains in providing for a safe and solid tow or transport. Nowhere in any state vehicle code does it state that tow operators must put themselves in harm's way; however, most vehicle code language was written long before distracted driving was an epidemic. It's my opinion that current vehicle code laws and their specific meaning places tow truck operators in harm's way.

I believe that every tow operator who thinks logically and safely will have an on-scene hookup routine that enables them to prepare a vehicle for load or tow while remaining as safe as reasonably possible. The number of tow operator fatalities or struck-by incidents (for all first responders), suggest that pedestrian, highway workers, or, first responders are most vulnerable when working the traffic-side of the highway.

Accordingly, professional tow operators must be aware of what techniques are necessary to avoid becoming another statistic. Remember, it takes 1 second for distracted motorists to enter the shoulder's workspace. And, when vehicles travel at highway speeds, there's a probable chance that towers can't react.
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