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American Towman Magazine Presents the Week in TowingJanuary 16 - January 22, 2019
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Dispatchers: Can Your Words Save Them?

Unknown 44e01By Randall C. Resch

When motorists experience breakdown on a highway's shoulder, many of them are simply scared and apprehensive at being immediately immersed in a dangerous and unfamiliar situation. With that fear comes some miscalculation and urgency on their part as they await the arrival of their service provider.

For most motorists, having a breakdown on a highway's shoulder is a new experience, so it's easy to understand their fear. It's a common occurrence that upon arrival of the tow truck or carrier, motorists quickly get out of their vehicle and meet the tower.

Can their actions be prevented?

What Caller Instructions?

It's fact that the majority of motorists have never been trained in the dangers of roadside emergencies or what to do if they have a crash in traffic. Countless motorists have been killed when they exited their vehicles to have a look at the damages done to their cars.

Looking out for dangerous approaching traffic isn't something on their radar; and walking or standing in traffic lanes, or exiting their vehicles without looking, is a common factor that oftentimes lead to their deaths.

I've toured some of the largest motor and auto club dispatch centers that serve the motoring public. I know that many of them have scripted talk sheets with which they converse with club members or calling parties.

Many scripted dispatch conversations typically begin with a friendly greeting that immediately asks something to the effect, "What is your emergency and are you parked in a safe location?" When conversation begins with asking the calling party the nature of their roadside emergency, the nature of the call receives a priority rating that's important to the response.

For both towing company and motor club dispatchers taking calls, it's important to provide quick instructions to the caller related to their roadside emergency. The manner that they exit or remain within their vehicle is critical to their safety.

I believe that dispatchers should provide a safety warning regarding the dangers of exiting their vehicle on the traffic side. According to the California Highway Patrol, motorists can remain within their vehicle (with seatbelts on) while the vehicle is readied for tow or service. If tow operators instruct a motorist to exit their vehicle from the traffic-side, they could be held responsible for placing motorists in harm's way if they're injured or killed.

Making it Clear

When the original phone request is taken, it makes sense to instruct motorists to remain inside their vehicle with their seatbelts fastened if their vehicle is in traffic. When parked on the shoulders, advise them to stay in their vehicles until the highway patrol or tow truck arrive. Whenever possible, tow operators should make contact with motorists on the non-traffic side. That practice is much safer than motorists exiting their vehicles and walking around on the shoulder or near traffic.

In the scenario mentioned above, you can bet that someone's going to question the initial call and listen to dispatch recordings, questioning the actions of the tow operator on scene. This is one of those, "Damned if you do, and, damned if you don't" scenarios that certainly will point blame at the service entity and tow company responders for someone else's actions.

Companies should develop protocol when taking calls for service requests. This is a topic for ongoing dispatcher safety because motorists have no clue as to what they're doing out there. I know that we can't control the actions of any motorist, customer, or club member; but while the motorist is on the phone, dispatchers providing them with a safety reminder may prevent them from being a victim of approaching traffic.

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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