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Tow-truck drivers, roadway workers face dangers while working on highways

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KMIZ)

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration, there were 300 fatal work-zone crashes in 2020.

Jordan Toebben, the owner of Toebben's Towing -- a tow service based out of Jefferson City -- said distracted motorists create unsafe conditions for those who work on roadways.

"We're trying to work but also watch traffic," Toebben said. "People just don't move over."

According to Toebben and an employee at the business, much of the time they see people distracted on their cellphones wanting to take pictures of a scene being worked on.

"We all have done it, go on our phones," Toebeen's Towing employee Kyle Phelps said. "But people will get so distracted there's times where they won't even realize they're driving past us."

Phelps said drivers sometimes will get close enough that he can sometimes make eye contact with them.

"They'll make eye contact with you and they'll see you," Phelps said. "They've got plenty of room to move over and they don't. It's lack of perspective for the job."

With drivers, at times, coming inches from the road workers, the speeds a motorist might deem as perfectly normal can be deadly.

"We've become accustomed to going 70 miles an hour down the highway and you don't realize how fast that is until you're six inches from a vehicle doing 70 miles an hour," Phelps said. "Go stand on your curbside and stay there when a car is going by you at 35. See what that's like and imagine it being closer to you going down the highway."

According to both men, there have been times where they have had to jump onto the bed of their tow trucks to avoid being hit by cars. Along with that, there are times where a secondary crash happens where they have been standing moments before.

"I've pulled a car out of a ditch before and right as the car was out, another car has slid in," Toebben said. "If I was standing there a few minutes earlier, I would be killed."

Toebben said it takes months to train new employees. He claims he won't let new hires leave his sight for the first month of the job.

"They have to learn what to look for," Toebben said. "Certain sounds on the road like rumble strips can be good indicators something is about to happen. You always have to be looking over your shoulder."

According to both men, family is always in the back of their minds and they want to get home safe.

"That's our biggest fear is not going home one day," Toebben said. "It could happen today, could be tomorrow or never hopefully. But it could happen so we just try to get everyone to slow down at least and hug that center line."

Missouri's move-over law states:

"Upon approaching a stationary vehicle displaying lighted red or red and blue lights, or a stationary vehicle displaying lighted amber or amber and white lights, the driver of every motor vehicle shall:

  • Proceed with caution and yield the right-of-way, if possible with due regard to safety and traffic conditions, by making a lane change into a lane not adjacent to that of the stationary vehicle, if on a roadway having at least four lanes with not less than two lanes proceeding in the same direction as the approaching vehicle; or
  • Proceed with due caution and reduce the speed of the vehicle, maintaining a safe speed for road conditions, if changing lanes would be unsafe or impossible.”

The law is meant to keep road-workers safe.

The Missouri Department of Transportation wants motorists to understand violations of the Move Over Law can lead to serious injuries of roadway workers, and at best, can lead to fines or imprisonment.

More information about the move-over law can be found on MoDOT's website.

Article Topic Follows: Travel

Ethan Heinz

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