Deadly accident-scene wrecks on I-5 prompt Wilson safety proposals

Four people dead in SW Washington prompt proposals to reinforce state’s ‘slow-down, move over’ law

OLYMPIA – Tragic collisions that killed two southwest Washington tow-truck operators and a pair of stranded motorists last year might have been averted with stronger measures to promote safety at accident scenes, says Sen. Jeff Wilson, R-Longview.

Two Wilson bills heard Tuesday in the Senate Transportation Committee aim to improve accident-scene safety by improving visibility of tow-trucks and reinforcing the state’s “slow down, move over” law. At Tuesday’s hearing, numerous tow-truck operators told of the hazards they face as they pull wrecked and disabled vehicles from the roadway, some offering emotional testimony about the injuries they have suffered themselves.

Senate Bill 5635 allows tow-truck operators to use a rear-facing blue flasher once they reach an accident scene, in addition to the red flasher permitted by state law when they enter a highway on the way to an accident.

Senate Bill 5907 requires greater notice and education about the state’s slow down, move over law, including roadway signage and electronic-sign messaging and a public awareness campaign.
“Tow truck operators are at great risk when they respond to accidents on busy freeways and highways,” Wilson said. “Our state’s slow-down, move over law has no doubt saved many lives. But what happened last year on I-5 ought to show us there is more that needs to be done.”

An April 24 accident south of Castle Rock killed a tow-truck operator and the two motorists he was assisting when another motorist slammed into their disabled vehicle. Another tow truck operator was killed Sept. 22 south of Kalama when a log truck braked suddenly to avoid slow traffic ahead and its empty trailer careened onto the shoulder.

The first accident hit home for Wilson. He knew the tow-truck driver. And he says there must be a better way. Under his proposal, tow-truck operators would flash red-and-blue once they arrive at an accident scene. The combination of red-and-blue is currently reserved for law-enforcement vehicles. Wilson maintains the combined flashers would provide better visibility and greater warning for all emergency responders.

The state’s current move over, slow down law requires motorists on multi-lane highways to move out of the adjacent lane if possible when approaching police and emergency vehicles at work on either shoulder. If motorists cannot safely change lanes, they must slow to ten miles below the speed limit.

SB 5635 stipulates that motorists unable to change lanes must slow to 50 mph or less when traveling on a highway with a speed limit of 60 mph or more. Though most highways in Washington state are posted with a maximum speed of 60 mph, some stretches of I-5 and most of I-90 permit 70 mph speeds.

“Bills like these make a big difference,” Wilson said. “People need to be reminded that slowing down and moving over is the law. And by using red-and-blue at accident scenes, we remind motorists they must be as cautious around tow-trucks as they are when they see law enforcement vehicles ahead. Four people dead ought to show us that we need to be more careful.”

Note: Tuesday’s hearing can be viewed at the following link: