Safety signs

Move over for emergency vehicles was the message TxDOT posted for drivers in 2017 on its digital sign on Interstate 14 in Harker Heights. The message went up two days after a Killeen tow truck operator was struck and killed Thursday by a minivan while he was trying to recover another vehicle.

Texas leads the nation in roadway deaths outside a disabled vehicle — 269 fatalities between 2015 and 2019 that the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety attributed to motorists’ failure to obey the state’s “Move Over or Slow Down” law.

Although the legislation requires drivers to move over one lane or reduce their speed by 20 miles per hour from the posted speed limit, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that approximately 23% of its surveyed individuals were unaware the law existed in their region.

“Deaths like these can be avoided if drivers slow down and move over to give our roadside heroes room to work safely,” Daniel Armbruster, AAA Texas spokesperson, said in a news release. “We can’t stress enough how important it is to pay attention so you have time to change lanes when you see AAA Texas, an emergency responder, or simply anybody along the side of the road.”

Ramon Jackson, a AAA tow instruction supervisor, stressed how tow truck operators are rarely working in a safe environment when present on a highway.

“When we’re on the side of the freeway, the shoulder is usually narrow and we have inches to work with,” he said. “At times … I’ve been brushed by mirrors of cars going past. I’ve just been lucky that I’ve been out of the way.”

Jackson, who has had three tow trucks crashed into by distracted drivers, credited those incidents to poor judgment.

“They may think that they have good judgment on how much space they’re leaving that person … but that perception is sometimes wrong and by the time they realize it, they’ve already hit or injured or killed the individual,” he said.

In Texas, drivers who fail to obey the “Move Over or Slow Down” law can receive a fine of up to $200 — a penalty that can increase up to $2,000 if a crash results in an injury to a worker.

Local police emphasize roadside safety.

“While you are driving, it’s always important to pay attention to what’s ahead and to be aware of what other drivers around you are doing,” Alejandra Arreguin, a city of Temple spokeswoman, told the Telegram. “Being alert while driving doesn’t only keep you safe, it keeps everyone safe — especially if a vehicle is on the side of the road. Be courteous by slowing down or moving over.”

Belton Police Chief Gene Ellis agreed.

“Taking precautions around disabled vehicles is the responsible thing to do, and it can save lives,” he said.