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Research Results: Roadside Assistance Providers Fatally Struck by Vehicles at the Roadside

Roadside assistance providers risk their own safety to help stranded motorists. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety recently conducted and published a project titled “Roadside Assistance Providers Fatally Struck by Vehicles at the Roadside: Incidence and Characteristics” to examine crashes in which roadside assistance providers were struck and killed by vehicles and inform efforts to protect them. 

Researchers identified 123 roadside assistance providers who were struck and killed by vehicles while working in the United States in years 2015 – 2021. This represented nearly four times as many as were identified using national crash data alone and slightly more than reported in a federal database of occupational fatalities.

Key Findings
  • 89% occurred at locations with speed limits of 55 miles per hour or higher, almost all of which were on Interstates or other limited-access highways.
  • 84% occurred in crashes with no indication of precipitation nor slippery road conditions.
  • 63% occurred during darkness, of which nearly two-thirds were at locations without lighting.
  • 63% occurred in crashes in which the striking vehicle left the road before striking the roadside assistance provider, the provider's vehicle, or the disabled vehicle.
  • The annual number of roadside assistance providers struck and killed by vehicles appears to be increasing significantly faster than the concurrent increasing trend in total traffic fatalities. Trends should be interpreted with caution, however, as it is possible that recent records of roadside assistance provider deaths may be more complete than records from earlier in the study period.
The report issues the following recommendations based on the research findings:
  • There is a need to reinforce public awareness of and increase compliance with Slow Down, Move Over laws, which require motorists to move over one lane or slow down when approaching an incident where tow operators, police, firefighters or emergency medical service providers are working at the roadside. There is also a need for research on the most effective approaches to increase compliance.
  • Countermeasures are needed to protect roadside assistance providers and first responders from out-of-control vehicles that depart the roadway; research is needed to determine what countermeasures are most effective and practical.
  • Training for roadside assistance providers should emphasize avoiding working on the traffic-facing side of the incident scene to the greatest extent possible and should provide strategies for how to do so.
  • In cases where countermeasures are inherently site-specific or where deployment must be prioritized, deployment should prioritize protecting roadside assistance providers working on high-speed limited-access highways.
  • State police crash report forms should include data fields designed to report whether a crash victim was an incident responder and type of responder when applicable, as called for in the current edition of the Model Minimum Uniform Crash Criteria. States should also consider collecting additional information on crashes in which roadside assistance providers and other emergency response personnel are struck by vehicles, at least in those that result in the injury or death of a responder.

TRAA appreciates the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety for conducting this valuable research. We look forward to seeing the results of their next study. For more information visit: AAAFoundation.org.

Tefft, B.C., Wei, A. & Steinbach, R. (2024). Roadside Assistance Providers Fatally Struck by Vehicles at the Roadside: Incidence and Characteristics (Technical Report). Washington, D.C.: AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

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TRAA is the national association representing the U.S. towing and recovery industry. We act as the "voice of America's towing industry" by offering representation, education, and leadership at the federal level. Much of our focus is on representing the interests of the towing and recovery industry on Capitol Hill including promoting positive legislation and opposing potentially negative legislation. TRAA is the industry's watchdog on Capitol Hill!