Roadside Assistance Providers Fatally Struck by Vehicles at the Roadside: Incidence and Characteristics
Roadside assistance providers risk their own safety to help stranded motorists. This report examines crashes in which roadside assistance providers were struck and killed by vehicles, to inform efforts to protect them.
Roadside assistance providers such as motor vehicle towing personnel, mobile mechanics, and safety service patrollers often work on or alongside highways to help motorists stranded due to vehicle breakdowns or crashes. This places them at risk of being struck by passing vehicles. Research is needed to understand the circumstances of crashes in which roadside assistance providers are struck by passing vehicles, to inform and prioritize efforts to protect them. However, the data sources most commonly used for traffic safety research do not reliably identify crash victims as roadside assistance providers, which has hindered previous research efforts. Thus, this study used data from industry sources to identify roadside assistance providers who were struck and killed by vehicles while working, and then linked them to a national database of fatal crashes, to gain an understanding of the circumstances of these crashes and issue recommendations for efforts to protect roadside assistance providers.
Roadside assistance providers who were struck and killed by vehicles while working on the side of the road were identified using records compiled by two industry groups that memorialize roadside assistance providers who have died. The Emergency Responder Safety Institute has maintained records of all roadside assistance providers as well as law enforcement officers, firefighters, and emergency medical services providers struck and killed by vehicles since 2019. The National Tow List has maintained a list of all roadside assistance providers who died in the line of duty from any cause since 2015. Researchers filtered and merged these records to compile a list of all known roadside assistance providers struck and killed by vehicles in the United States since 2015. These records were then matched to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System, a database of all fatal crashes each year in the United States, using information available in both sets of records such as the date and location of the crash and the age of the victim. Data from 2015 through 2021 (the most recent year of fatal crash data available at the time of the study) were examined. The researchers then analyzed these data to document the characteristics of the crashes in which roadside assistance providers died.
Researchers identified 123 roadside assistance providers who were struck and killed by vehicles while working in the United States in years 2015 – 2021. This represented nearly four times as many as were identified using national crash data alone and slightly more than reported in a federal database of occupational fatalities. Examination of the data provided the following insights:
- 89% occurred at locations with speed limits of 55 miles per hour or higher, almost all of which were on Interstates or other limited-access highways.
- 84% occurred in crashes with no indication of precipitation nor slippery road conditions.
- 63% occurred during darkness, of which nearly two-thirds were at locations without lighting.
- 63% occurred in crashes in which the striking vehicle left the road before striking the roadside assistance provider, the provider’s vehicle, or the disabled vehicle.
The report includes many additional findings as well as recommendations for future research and practice to protect roadside assistance providers.