When the flashing lights of a police cruiser or a fire engine are with them, tow truck drivers say they feel relatively safe when they’re helping disabled cars and trucks on the side of the highway. But when they’re alone, it becomes an infinitely more dangerous job. “We’ve all jumped over the guardrails to avoid being hit,” said Henry Kerstgens, owner of Henry’s Towing in Framingham. “People don’t pay attention and it’s worse now with phones and texting. You used to have to only worry about some guy coming home, overtired from working all day or some drunk woman. Now you have to worry about everybody.” Things were supposed to get better after the state Legislature passed what is known as the Move Over Law in 2009.
When police, fire, ambulance or other emergency vehicles, as well as tow trucks, are on the highway, the law requires drivers to move their vehicles to a lane further to the left. If they can’t do so safely, they are supposed to slow down and proceed with caution. However, people don’t respect the law, particularly when it comes to tow trucks, said Kim Lowell, executive director of the Statewide Towing Association. “It’s the nature of the driving public’s mentality today,” said Lowell. “People are in a rush, and we’re worried about the lack of caring about the law.” On March 14, tow truck driver Daniel Coady Jr., 41, of Coady’s Towing in Lawrence, was struck and killed as he was standing next to his truck on Interstate 495 by a passing vehicle.
That driver has been charged with drunken driving and vehicular homicide. “Here’s a guy out there trying to support his family, making an honest living and he leaves his house one day and now he’s never going to see his wife and kids again,” said Mike Mabardy, owner of Mabardy’s Gulf in Natick, who has been towing since 1969. “No one knows how dangerous someone’s job is, especially a tow truck driver’s, until something like this happens. It’s just too bad it takes something like this for people to care.” It’s not unusual for tow truck drivers to get struck, or have close calls, said Mike Butler, a head driver at Art’s Towing in Milford. “I’ve been nipped before by cars, but have never been hit full on,” he said. “When the cops are out there, people pay attention. It shouldn’t just be when the cops are out there. We should be safe out there by ourselves.” The big problem is the penalty. Violating the Move Over Law is only a $100 citation, Lowell said. She said the tow truck association hopes to work with legislators to increase the penalty.
“You get a bigger fine for not shoveling a sidewalk than you do for endangering someone’s life,” said Lowell. ”(The Move Over Law) was the first step. Now we have to revisit it again.” State Rep. Jack Lewis, D-Framingham, said he would like to examine the Move Over Law more closely before deciding if he would support higher penalties. “I wonder what percentage of drivers knows about the Move Over Law,” he said. “I think, at the very least, drivers need to be educated about it. At the end of the day, we need to keep people safe.” State Rep. Carolyn Dykema, D-Holliston, said she would be willing to talk about increasing penalties. “I think tow truck drivers have a much more dangerous job than people realize,” she said. “It’s definitely worth having a conversation about it.” Although tragic, Lowell said she hopes Coady’s death will help to finally get things changed. “We’re hoping Dan’s death is not in vain,” said Lowell. “We’re hoping this brings things to the forefront.”