Thursday, May 22, 2008

OH Tow Truck Driver's Death Rekindles Legislation

From The Columbus Dispatch:
Tow -truck drivers expect to clean up accidents — not become part of one.

But the death of a driver in Pickaway County earlier this week has renewed interest in tow -truck safety legislation that has been buried for more than a year.

Matthew Shilling, 35, of Orient, was struck and killed by a hit-skip driver Sunday while picking up a car that had hit a deer on I-71 just south of the Franklin-Pickaway county line The State Highway Patrol has not yet found the driver who fled the scene.

Shilling’s death brought tow-truck driver safety to the legislature’s attention. House Bill 21 would add tow -truck drivers to Ohio’s “Move Over, Slow Down” law. Under the current law, drivers must change to the lane away from a parked public safety vehicle with flashing lights. Violators can be fined up to $150. Twenty-six states include tow-truck drivers in similar laws, according the American Automobile Association.

“I know people have to move over for police officers, but I'm still at a loss as to how towers got left out of that bill,” said Shilling’s employer, Stacy Wills, owner of Eitels Towing Inc.

Shilling’s fiancĂ©e, Lisa Rapp, said she hopes the bill will move forward quickly because she was always frightened when he would respond to calls.

“It scared me to death, but it was something that he loved to do,” said Rapp.

The Towing and Recovery Association of America estimates that about 55 tow truck drivers are killed each year in the United States.

Driver Paul Cowan, of Troy, knows the next time he is struck by a vehicle whizzing past his tow truck might be the last. He already has been hit four times, and Shilling’s death has been a reminder about the job’s dangers.

“It’s always sits in the back of your mind. When I get in my truck, am I going to come back home?” Cowan said.

Cowan backs a bill introduced in February 2007 by Rep. Diana M. Fessler, a Dayton-area Republican.

Fessler sent a memo to fellow House members on Tuesday, asking them to reconsider the legislation in light of Shilling’s death.

Committee Chairman Rep. Steven Reinhard, a Bucyrus Republican, acknowledged that Fessler’s bill is not a priority. “With everything else that has been going on in Columbus, it hasn't been at the top of the list,” he said.

Also, there is some concern that adding tow-truck drivers to the “Move Over, Slow Down” law will open the debate about whether mechanics, utilities workers and others who work along roads should be included.

Reinhard said he does not believe the bill will be brought up again before the end of the legislative session, but conceded that Shilling’s death as renewed interest in the concept.

A hearing scheduled for April 16 in the House Infrastructure, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs Committee, was canceled because Fessler was sick that day.

“I was very discouraged that in my absence that the bill was pulled,” she said. “Nonetheless, the bill could and should have been put back on the agenda and brought for a vote.”

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