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DWI: 'I Drank Too Much Cough Syrup'

drunkdriver d08e3By Randall C. Resch

In January 2017, a 31-year-old Florida towman was allegedly driving under the influence of drugs when his tow truck left the highway, over-corrected, then came back on the road and struck an SUV head-on. All three people in the SUV perished.

In Mississippi, the Highway Patrol requested a tow truck respond for a single-vehicle accident. When the tow operator arrived awkwardly on-scene, he was arrested for allegedly being intoxicated.

You'd think that tow operators would know about drinking and driving based on the calls we respond to. Shouldn't towers be smart about what's going to happen if they're DWI?

The last thing tow company owners want to hear from their drivers is, "I just needed to get high," especially when their drivers are responding to calls in their tow trucks.

First Call, First Up

When tow companies contract with law enforcement, on-call drivers taking tow trucks home is part of being on rotation. Law enforcement rightfully has the expectation that on-call drivers aren't consuming alcoholic beverages or smoking weed before responding to requests. Falling short of these expectations is unacceptable.

In a nutshell, here are several ways intoxicated tow operators initiate their own arrests:

• An officer easily observes how the operator approaches based on the tow truck's speed, turns, and backing movements.

• When the operator can't center on the vehicle being towed while backing up.

• The tower's eyes may be bloodshot and red.

• Their speech may be thick and slurred.

• Their stride and balance is compromised.

• There's an obvious odor of booze or marijuana coming from their person, breath or the tow truck's interior.

When officers conduct a quick field-test called, "Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus" (how a person's eyes react to light and or stimuli). Gaze nystagmus is an involuntary jerking of one's eye when gazing to the side. Since this jerking becomes exaggerated by consuming alcohol, it's typically one evidence of impairment during DWI arrests.

If officers have reason to believe drivers may be under the influence of something, it typically leads to other sobriety tests.

It's in the Rulebook

For sobriety to be the norm, company rules must include verbiage regarding no drinking or doing drugs during working hours and/or when responding to calls from home. If the employee manual isn't specific regarding drinking and recreational smoke, employees oftentimes claim that, "because it wasn't in the rules, I shouldn't have been fired."

Policy must reflect the company's stance on drugs and alcohol. My employee handbook reflects a, "Zero-Tolerance Policy", with rules for after-hour's and take-home trucks. For example, my rules clearly state:

"XYZ Towing is a, ZERO TOLERANCE COMPANY, and observes stipulations in-line with the law enforcement community. Employees will not arrive or work in an intoxicated, high, confused, or, questionable state, suggesting a level of impairment.

"This includes tow operators serving as on-call drivers from home or facility beyond office hours. Employees will not use, drink, or otherwise abuse, consume, ingest, inject, or inhale, any form of, pills, drugs, powders, cough syrups, cold medications, marijuana, or alcoholic beverages, where use, impairment, or possession of, on any company property, or within its vehicles, is prohibited.

"Inside employees determined to be under the influence of alcoholic beverages, marijuana, or, demonstrate behaviors consistent with recreational drugs, will be evaluated for violation of this policy. Inside and outside employees are prohibited from hiding and consuming alcoholic beverages, or prohibited smoke products, in their desks, common areas, work stations or company vehicles."

Additional policy for take-home trucks and on-call drivers:

"For tow operators assigned as on-call or rotation drivers, may take a company tow truck home, however, are required to immediately respond to calls by being ready and sober to accept calls dispatched to them within ETA requirements."

When towers are arrested for DWI, word travels fast throughout the towing and recovery community. It's one of those, "if you play, you're gonna pay," lessons in-life. Having your tow truck impounded and losing your job is only the tip of the DWI iceberg.

Randall Resch is American Towman's and Tow Industry Week's Operations Editor, a former California police officer, tow business owner and retired civilian off-road instructor for Navy Special Warfare. Randall is an approved instructor for towers serving the California Highway Patrol's rotation contract. His course is approved by the California law enforcement community. He has written over 500 industry-related articles for print and on-line, is a member of the International Towing & Recovery Hall of Fame, and, a recipient of the 2017 Dave Jones Leadership Award.
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