Tow trucks provide a vital and necessary service: hauling stranded vehicles to safer locations. They show up when drivers run out of gas, have a flat tire, or have engine trouble that brings the car to a stop, with nothing the driver can do to start it up again. They come to the rescue when mechanical damage makes it impossible for the vehicle to move safely under its own power. In many cases, a tow truck’s arrival brings with it an incredible sense of relief.
Out on the road, however, tow trucks can cause problems that ultimately lead to accidents and serious injuries. Tow trucks usually have more mass than the average passenger vehicle. Add the weight of a towed vehicle and a tow truck’s mass can pose a substantial hazard in an accident. Not only that, tow trucks come with some serious and unique hazards for other drivers on the road that a truck accident lawyer can help you with.
Common Causes of Tow Truck Accidents
Depending on the size of the tow truck and the weight it can haul, tow truck drivers may carry a Class B or Class C license, which requires a little more training than a standard license. Unfortunately, this extra training does not necessarily mean that tow truck drivers have better driving skills than the average driver on the road.
In general, driver error causes most accidents, including accidents between tow truck drivers and passenger vehicles. Driver error may include:
- Failing to follow the rules of the road. Tow truck drivers, like other drivers, must follow the rules of the road. As they load damaged vehicles, tow truck drivers usually exercise extreme care to prevent other vehicles from hitting them. They may need to block traffic or shut down a road temporarily to make it safe for them to load the disabled vehicle. Once back on the road, tow truck drivers must follow the same rules as other drivers: adhering to the speed limit, stopping for stop signs and red lights, and yielding to oncoming traffic when necessary. Failure to follow those rules when needed can significantly increase the risk of an accident.
- Driver distraction. Distracted drivers often cause accidents without realizing it. Distracted tow truck drivers have the weight of two vehicles behind them, which can significantly increase the severity of property damage and injuries when they do cause an accident. Driver distraction includes talking or texting on a cell phone, eating or drinking in the vehicle, or even trying to manage GPS directions while driving, all of which can prevent a driver from noticing everything going on around them.
- Inattention. Thanks to the large, heavy load they carry, tow truck drivers need more room to stop, change lanes, or turn. Inattention can quickly lead to accidents.
- Inebriation. Driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol, including prescription and over-the-counter medications, can severely impair a driver’s ability to respond appropriately to an accident. Drivers under the influence of over-the-counter medications may, for example, experience drowsiness, inattention, or difficulty making decisions. Reaction time suffers under the influence of any type of substance.
- Driver reactions. One tire slips off the road, and the driver quickly overcompensates to get the tow truck back where it belongs. The driver fails to see their turn coming up and tries to turn sharply, causing the truck to spin out of control. Often, even if a driver does not mean to cause an accident, their reactions can lead to significant accidents with severe injuries.
Poor Weather Conditions
Tow trucks operate more often in poor weather conditions than other vehicles. Often, tow trucks are called to haul other vehicles out of ditches or to retrieve damaged vehicles after an accident, which occur more often in poor weather conditions than on bright, sunny days. As a result, many tow truck drivers have more experience operating in poor weather conditions than other drivers. That experience does not make the tow truck driver immune to weather-related issues, however. On wet or icy roads, the tow truck may slip and slide just like any other vehicle. And its greater mass may make it difficult for the tow truck driver to bring it back under control.
Unlike other big trucks, tow trucks may not receive inspections every time they go out on the road. In fact, some companies only require infrequent inspections of their vehicles, which may make short runs around town rather than spending hours out on the highway. Tow truck drivers may also fail to report minor mechanical issues when they first crop up. Some tow truck drivers own their own vehicles, which means they may put off repairs until they notice serious problems.
Unfortunately, this can significantly increase the risk of mechanical failures, which can pose a serious hazard for everyone sharing the road with the tow truck. Even minor mechanical issues can increase the risks of an accident, including:
- Tire blowouts, often resulting from tires not replaced frequently enough.
- Windshield wiper problems, which can make it difficult for tow truck drivers to see in poor weather.
- Burned out headlights or tail lights, which can make it difficult for the tow truck driver to see or for other drivers to judge the tow truck driver’s intentions.
- Engine or transmission issues.
- Failure of the mechanisms used to load the towed vehicles.
Falling Load Accidents
Tow trucks routinely haul other vehicles, including large vehicles. When those vehicles are loaded improperly, they can pose a serious hazard to others on the road. Falling loads can cause the tow truck to become off-balance, increasing the risks of a rollover accident. If the towed vehicle falls off of the tow truck completely, it can roll into traffic and cause an accident.
Avoiding Tow Truck Accidents
When you share the road with a tow truck, you cannot always avoid the hazards that truck presents. For example, as an average driver on the road, you can do nothing to prevent a truck’s load from slipping off. You can, however, take several steps to decrease the risk of an accident when you share the road with a tow truck.
1. Realize that tow truck drivers have large blind spots that change with each vehicle they tow.
Unlike semi truck drivers, tow truck drivers do not have static blind spots that become familiar over weeks and months of driving a specific vehicle. In many cases, a tow truck driver’s blind spots change with each vehicle they tow, growing for larger vehicles and shrinking when hauling smaller cars. And unfortunately, tow truck drivers cannot utilize the same blind spot sensors that improve visibility for big truck drivers, since they may be unable to attach those sensors to the vehicle they tow.
When you share the road with a tow truck driver, understand their blind spots. Tow trucks often have large mirrors that help increase visibility for the driver. If you travel alongside a tow truck outside the view of those mirrors, however, the driver may not know you are there. If you cannot see the driver in the mirror, the driver probably cannot see you. Try to avoid driving in a tow truck’s blind spots, if possible.
2. Watch for signs of an unstable load.
Tow truck drivers usually load the vehicles they haul themselves, and they exercise caution to ensure that the vehicle is as stable as possible. Unfortunately, sometimes, unexpected failures—often mechanical failures unnoticed by the driver before the accident—cause the towed vehicle to slip off the back of the tow truck. If you notice signs of an unstable load, including a vehicle wobbling more than usual on the back of a tow truck or a vehicle that seems to slide toward the back of the truck with nothing to catch it, move your own vehicle away from the tow truck. If you notice a vehicle wobbling from side to side on the back of the tow truck, do not attempt to pass the tow truck.
3. Give the tow truck driver plenty of room.
Like other big trucks, tow trucks need space to make wide turns. In some cases, depending on the size of the disabled vehicle, the tow truck driver may require more space than usual. Do not come up close beside a truck when the driver signals their intent to make a turn. You should also exercise care when driving around a tow truck: do not pull sharply in front of the tow truck, which could give the driver inadequate room to stop their vehicle if you need to slam on your brakes.
Also, avoid abruptly stopping in front of a tow truck if possible. In tight traffic, back off and leave yourself a little more room to maneuver so that the tow truck driver behind you does not have to stop, change lanes, or swerve abruptly, which may increase the risk of a rear-end collision. Sharing the road can make it easier for the tow truck driver to maneuver their vehicle. When following behind the tow truck driver, pay particular attention to the tow truck’s brake lights and signal lights. If the driver mistakenly hooks up the towed vehicle improperly, you may struggle to clearly see signal lights. In this case, back off and leave plenty of room to allow the driver to slow or stop without you running into the back of the vehicle.
What Should You Do After a Tow Truck Accident?
Tow truck accidents may leave you with severe injuries. After a tow truck accident, make sure you follow these steps.
1. Seek medical attention.
Acknowledge the possibility of injuries like chest contusions, a traumatic brain injury, and even spinal cord damage that may not be immediately apparent at the scene of the accident. The sooner you seek medical attention, the better the outcome for many of these types of injuries. Seeking medical attention will also provide you with evidence concerning your injuries. Keep records of your medical bills, any scans and tests, and statements from your doctor about the severity of your injuries.
2. Get in touch with your insurance company.
Let your insurance company know about the damage to your vehicle, the accident, and any injuries you suffered. In some cases, your insurance company will help you file a personal injury claim or a property damage claim. You can discuss what you need to do about your current insurance policy following your accident with your insurance adjuster, especially if that accident totaled your vehicle. Your insurance company may also provide you with the funds you need to repair your vehicle, then take compensation from the tow truck driver’s insurance company.
3. Get in touch with an attorney.
An attorney can offer you many advantages when filing a personal injury claim. Not only does an attorney understand the personal injury claims process and how long it will likely take you to get compensation for your injuries, an attorney has a good idea of what compensation you deserve and how you should file the claim. The sooner you contact an attorney after your accident, the sooner that attorney can start working on your behalf, whether that means getting in touch with witnesses, collecting evidence, or negotiating with the insurance company to get the compensation you deserve.
Dealing with a tow truck accident can cause substantial frustration, not to mention the pain you suffer during your recovery from injuries. Even if you understand the limitations and hazards posed by tow trucks and how you can decrease the likelihood of a tow truck accident, you cannot always prevent one. If you do find yourself in an accident with a tow truck, working with an attorney can help make the personal injury claims process much easier and less stressful.
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