Wilson tow-truck safety bill advances to governor’s desk

House passes bill prompted by tragic deaths of Longview-area tow-truck operators

OLYMPIA – Sen. Jeff Wilson’s two-year effort to reduce hazards at roadside accident scenes has landed on the governor’s desk, following unanimous votes in the House and Senate.

Senate Bill 5023, sponsored by Wilson, R-Longview, would allow tow-truck operators to use rear-facing blue flashers when they reach a roadside emergency zone. The measure is prompted by the 2021 deaths of two Longview-area tow truck operators in separate accidents on the Interstate 5 shoulder. In one of those incidents, two stranded motorists were killed as well.

Wilson’s measure passed the House March 24 by a vote of 96-0. The Senate earlier passed the bill 49-0.

The bill aims to increase the visibility of roadside emergency operations to approaching motorists. State law already permits tow-truck operators to use red flashers once they enter highways on the way to an emergency. By using rear-facing blue flashers when they reach the scene, Wilson said tow-truck operators will create a visual effect motorists find difficult to ignore.

“Tow-truck driving is one of the most dangerous professions in America, with an on-the-job death rate 15 times higher than the national average,” Wilson said. “We need to change the way people drive. The two deaths we saw in the Longview area in 2021 were not isolated incidents, but I have to say they brought the issue home to me.”

Wilson has dubbed his bill the Arthur Anderson and Raymond Mitchell Tow Operators Safety Act for the two tow operators killed in 2021.

The votes culminated a long effort by Wilson to promote safer driving at highway-shoulder accident scenes. His first bill in 2022 contained several proposals that already have been implemented. These include a new speed limit in emergency zones – 50 mph wherever the posted speed is 50 mph or greater. Funding also has been provided to state agencies to develop driver-training materials, highway signage and a public-awareness campaign to promote Washington’s slow-down, move-over law.