Wilson highway-safety bill passes Senate

Prompted by tragic deaths of tow-truck operators, stranded motorists on I-5 near Longview

OLYMPIA – A highway-safety bill prompted by four deaths along the I-5 corridor in a matter of weeks last year near Longview passed the state Senate Friday, designed to reduce hazards faced by tow-truck operators, fire-department crews and stranded motorists along highway roadsides.

Senate Bill 5907 allows tow-trucks and other emergency vehicles to use rear-facing blue flashers when they reach an emergency zone, in addition to the red flashers already permitted by law. The bill also launches a public-education and signage effort to reinforce the state’s “slow down, move over” law. The bill passed the Senate on a 49-0 vote and moves to the state House of Representatives for further consideration.

“Tow-truck operators and firefighters help keep us alive,” said Sen. Jeff Wilson, R-Longview. “We need to make sure we keep them alive, too. They work 24/7, in rain and snow, and the only protection we give them from the cars whizzing by a few feet away is the white line painted on the pavement. The deaths we saw on I-5 last year demonstrate we need to do more.”

Wilson said blue flashers placed on the rear of emergency vehicles would increase visibility and help signal to motorists that they need to slow down and move over. Tow trucks, fire trucks and other emergency vehicles currently are permitted to use red flashers when they enter a highway on the way to an emergency scene. Washington state law currently reserves blue flashers for law enforcement vehicles, but 11 states currently allow blue flashers for other emergency vehicles.

Wilson calls his bill the Arthur Anderson and Raymond Mitchell Tow Operators Safety Act, named for the two Longview-area tow-truck operators killed in roadside accidents last year. In both cases, drivers in freeway lanes collided with vehicles on the shoulder. Anderson and two stranded motorists were killed April 24 south of Castle Rock, and Mitchell was killed Sept. 22 south of Kalama.

Wilson knew Anderson, and said the tragedy hits home. Accidents like these are a daily hazard for tow-truck operators and other emergency responders, he said. “Most tragic about these cases is that these deaths are preventable. We need to remind people that our slow-down, move-over law applies to all emergency vehicles, not just law enforcement. A bit of caution behind the wheel does save lives.”