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Opinion: Slow down, move over, give highway workers some breathing room

Opinion: Slow down, move over, give highway workers some breathing room

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RACINE — A Freeway Service Patrol employee was killed recently when he stopped his tow truck on Interstate 94 near 7 Mile Road to remove debris — in this case a turtle — from the roadway.

He had his emergency flashers on and was outside his tow truck when he was struck by a northbound semi-trailer. The semi didn’t stop, but the driver was later apprehended in Fond du Lac County near Ripon.

It was a tragic accident that underscored the dangers that Freeway Service Patrol workers face in their jobs trying to keep the roadways clear and aiding travelers who have flat tires or car breakdowns on our highways.

The least — the very least — that we can do when we’re on the highway is to give emergency vehicles and law enforcement officers some safe distancing — yeah, you’ve heard that term a lot recently because of the pandemic — and help them do their jobs.

The simple fact is that driving a tow truck and helping stranded motorists is one of the most dangerous jobs in the country.

It’s risky kneeling and trying to change a flat tire or load up a car when traffic is barreling by at 70 mph just a couple feet away.

A Center for Disease Control and Prevention study for a five-year period ending in 2016 found there were 191 tow truck driver deaths nationwide. That translates to 42.9 deaths per 100,000 workers — a rate that is more than three times as dangerous as being a police officer where the rate is 12.9 deaths per 100,000 workers and more than four times as risky as that of a firefighter, 8.9 deaths per 100,000 workers.

The Racine County fatality marred what had been a fairly safe spring on state highways so far this year — something that was doubtlessly linked to less traveling and less traffic as people stayed closed to home during the coronavirus pandemic.

Through the end of May, traffic fatalities on state highways stood at 172. That’s down 13 deaths from the same time a year ago and down 16 percent from the six-year average of 204 fatalities at this time, year to date.

As the pandemic hopefully wanes in the weeks ahead, we expect there will be more drivers on the road, but we hope the safer trend continues.

To make that happen we need to do our part and our part is to watch out not only for the actions of other drivers, but especially for the Good Samaritans of the road — the tow truck drivers, Freeway Patrol workers, law enforcement and emergency crews who are doing their best to keep us safe.

When you see those flashing lights, slow down, move over and give them some breathing room.

This editorial is reprinted with permission from the Racine Journal Times.

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