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Extra-thick low-clearance roadside mat is 2' wide by 4' long
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American Towman Magazine Presents the Week in TowingFebruary 20 - February 26, 2019

Lane Blocking: Is it Really a Good Idea?

garbage c4fd3By Brian J. Riker

I have noticed a trend lately of towers using their equipment to block traffic for fellow operators. While I applaud their intent and truly appreciate the camaraderie that is developing among towers (it is about time we start acting like a brotherhood), there are risks associated. The choice to block or not is solely yours to make.

I am aware of several incidents where the blocking truck was struck, likely saving the other tower from injury, but in the process creating a huge liability issue for the tower that was just doing a good deed.

In most states, towers are not authorized to close a lane and can be liable for any accident or injury that results from doing so.

I was involved in a lawsuit last year where a tower that was simply loading a disabled vehicle on the side of a limited access highway was sued for injuries to the occupants of the vehicle that hit his tow truck because he did not have the legal authority to encroach upon the travel lane of the highway. This settled out of court for an undisclosed sum and resulted in the tow company having great difficulty affording insurance to continue operating.

Should you decide to permit your employees to block for a fellow tower what will happen if your truck is struck? Most likely your insurance company will deny the damage claim because you had no business reason to be in harm's way; same for your worker compensation insurance should your employee get hurt.

The person that struck you will sue your company, your employee and your insurance company as well as the company you were blocking for in an attempt to recover a large monetary reward. It is even possible the police will cite your driver for causing the crash, which will lead to insurance and continued employment issues for all involved.

If you are fortunate enough to work in a state that does recognize towers as emergency responders and gives towers the right to close lanes as needed, make sure the drivers that are blocking have had the required traffic control training. It is simply not enough to place a tow truck with some emergency lighting along the fog line and call that traffic control.

Check with your state and local transportation agencies to see what the exact training, licensing and insurance requirements are to close a lane. Then see about providing traffic control as an ancillary service and generate some revenue from it. If you are legally permitted to provide traffic control and are billing for doing so, it will be much harder for your insurance company to dodge their liability for your company's actions.

Your company should have a formal policy regarding blocking for fellow towers. This policy should cover when it is permissible to do so, if you can do so for competitors or just company trucks and what procedures must be followed should you decide to allow lane blocking.

Again, I applaud the sentiment and appreciate the risk my fellow towers are taking. I simply would not be doing my job if I did not point out the risks associated with this trend. The choice is yours to make.

Bottom line: While we all feel a civic duty to protect our brothers and sisters on the highway, we must do so in a safe and legal fashion. It does not help our case for better traffic control if we become part of the problem.

I know we all feel helpless to stop the devastating loss of life on the roadside within our industry. Sadly, I do not see a quick or simple solution to this problem as distracted driving is at an all time high. Stay safe, wear appropriate safety gear and watch your back ... that's the best advice I can give.

Brian J. Riker is a third generation towman and President of Fleet Compliance Solutions LLC. He specializes in helping non-traditional fleets such as towing, repossession, and construction companies navigate the complex world of Federal and State transportation regulatory compliance. With 25 years of experience in the ditch as a tow operator Brian truly understands the unique needs and challenges faced by towing companies today. He can be reached at
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