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Highway Heroes at Risk: Characteristics of Fatal Roadside Worker Crashes

AAA Research shows speed, impairment and distraction as likely factors for many roadside crashes

slow down move over

Roadside assistance providers assist motorists every day whose vehicles have become disabled due to mechanical failures, crashes, or other causes. It’s a job that comes with risks, and according to new research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, these workers are struck and killed nearly four times more than reported. It’s a chilling reality for tow truck drivers, mobile mechanics, emergency roadside technicians and safety service patrols who put themselves at risk to help others. The Foundation study reveals a disturbing picture of dangers faced by those working on the side of the road, and the numbers might be getting worse.

“In order to save the lives of roadside workers, we must examine all the facts of these types of fatal crashes and learn from them,” said Theresa Podguski, director of legislative affairs, AAA East Central. “If motorists will focus on observing the law by slowing down and moving over when they see roadside assistance personnel, it could mean the difference between life and death for these service providers.”

AAA Foundation researchers combed through diverse information sources and uncovered 123 roadside assistance providers killed by passing vehicles between 2015 and 2021. This grim figure dwarfs the approximate 34 noted in national crash data. The discrepancy is due to a persistent failure of state police crash report forms. Currently, many of these forms record roadside assistance providers as "pedestrians," not technicians. While yearly total traffic fatalities increased significantly over the study period, the data suggest that roadside assistance provider fatalities increased even more.

Key Findings

  • 89% of crashes occurred at locations with 55 mph or higher speed limits, almost all on interstates or other limited access highways.
  • 84% of crashes occurred in good weather without precipitation/slippery road conditions.
  • 63% occurred during darkness, of which nearly two-thirds were at locations without street lighting. But 34% of the crashes were in daylight.
  • 63% occurred in crashes in which the striking vehicle had already left the road and was traveling on the shoulder or beyond before impact. This suggests the involvement of factors such as impairment, fatigue, or distraction. More than one-third of striking drivers who were tested for alcohol were alcohol-positive. But nearly half were not tested.

Next Steps

AAA urges action on several fronts:

  • Slow Down, Move Over: Lawmakers must reinforce these life-saving laws which remind drivers to give space to everyone working on the side of the road. 
  • Shield the Vulnerable: Countermeasures to prevent vehicles from striking workers must be utilized. The Foundation previously examined vehicle-mounted electronic variable message signs and found them effective at alerting drivers to slow down and move over.
  • Train for survival: Training for roadside assistance providers should emphasize the importance of not working or standing on the traffic-facing side of the incident whenever possible and minimize time spent on the traffic-facing side of the scene.

The AAA Foundation’s research reinforces the importance of the Safe System Approach (SSA) to transportation planning. The SSA is a strategic way of leveraging the engineering and behavioral countermeasures proven to be effective at preventing traffic crashes and the injuries that can result from them. The AAA Foundation study results suggest that full compliance with Move Over laws isn’t enough. States also must address factors like speed, impaired driving and distraction that lead to road departure crashes. Learn more about the SSA HERE.

AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.  Established in 1947 by AAA, the Foundation for Traffic Safety is a nonprofit, publicly funded 501(c)(3) charitable research and educational organization. The AAA Foundation's mission is to prevent traffic deaths and injuries by researching their causes and by educating the public about strategies to prevent crashes and reduce injuries when they do occur. This research informs the development of educational materials for drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists, and other road users.

AAA East Central is a not-for-profit association with 70 local offices in Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia serving 2.7 million members. News releases are available at  Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.


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AAA East Central is a member club affiliated with the American Automobile Association (AAA) national federation and serves members in Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.