AUSTIN (KXAN) — What do you do when you see a police car, ambulance or fire engine pulled over on the side of the road?
Most people either slow down or move over a lane. After all, it’s the law in Texas.
What if you saw a tow truck on the side of the road?
Chances are you’d just keep going.
Based on the results of recent enforcement operations in Austin, most people have no clue the law that requires drivers to move over or slow down to 20 miles per hour below the speed limit when passing an emergency vehicle also applies to tow trucks.
“We pretty much see zero compliance. Nobody is even getting close to moving over,” says Detective Patrick Oborski from the Austin Police Department.
Oborski was one of nearly 20 APD officers who took part in an operation targeting drivers who ignore the “move over/slow down” law.
They parked a tow truck, hauling a pickup on the side of I-35 in south Austin. In the first 10 minutes, they saw officers stop half a dozen drivers for speeding past the parked tow truck. A previous operation two weeks earlier netted nearly 240 drivers. In both cases, drivers were let off with a warning.
“It’s pretty scary,” says Angel Mora, a tow truck driver in the Austin-area for 17 years.
Mora recalled a time when he and another driver were nearly hit by a car going more than 100 miles per hour.
“He probably missed us by 2-3 inches. But we had to just sit there and look at each other like, ‘Wow!’“
In February, federal safety regulators issued a report that found tow truck drivers are 15 times more likely to be killed on the job than the average private sector work.
“It’s really dangerous. You can feel the cars coming before you can see them,” says Oborksi, describing what it’s like standing on the side of a busy highway.
APD has run similar operations using police cars. Oborski says they helped teach people to slow down. Now, he’s hoping drivers will learn the same lesson with tow trucks.
“They’re just not ingrained in their mind yet that tow trucks are first responders.”