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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

High-Vis Vests Keep Tow Truck Drivers Safer, Too

Here's a column by Kimberly Edds of the OC Register about the federal regulations on safety vests that went into effect in November:

Drunken drivers have a thing for flashing lights. Fire engines and police cars have lots of flashing lights to tell people to get out of their way. Not a great combo when firefighters and cops on are on the side of the highway trying to help someone.

But to be fair, apparently sober drivers are attracting to shiny flashing things, too. At least 50 firefighters, rescue personnel and police officers were hit by vehicles while working along the road last year, according to statistics compiled by ResponderSafety.com.

A federal regulation went into effect in November requiring public safety personnel to wear high-visibility safety vests while working on or near roadways. Superman has his red cape and blue tights. Firefighter Jake and Policeman Perry get fluorescent yellow-green or orange-red vests with reflective stripes.

Anyone – cops, firefighters, EMS crews, tow truck drivers and other first responders – working on a federally funded highway have to wear a high-visibility vest.

Now, firefighters wear yellow turnout pants and coats. Yellow seems pretty bright to me, but apparently there are a lot of colorblind drivers on America's highways or people just don't seem to get it. You're supposed to avoid the red flashing lights and the really busy people running around in yellow.

Walking around looking like a neon cop that escaped from your kid's Lego set isn't going to win you any beauty contests.

Then again, the men and women on the roadside aren't out strutting their stuff on the catwalk at Fashion Week. They're there because someone is having a really bad day. Hit them and now you have a whole mess of people having a really bad day – and you can add your name to the list.

Lots of cop shops have had the vest requirements on the books for years – but like most rules, they tend to be bent, if not broken, as soon as they are written down. Someone gets hurt and then everyone suddenly remembers the rule.

Pull up YouTube and you'll get an up-close-and-personal view of just how dangerous it is to be dealing with crooks or accident victims on the side of the freeway. It's not pretty. People get hurt and people die. If a little bit of neon can help prevent that, put it on.

Some vests feature breakaway sides in case the vest gets caught on a passing car will drag the vest not Policeman Perry or Firefighter Jake down the 405.

Firefighters can leave the Day-Glo vests in the fire truck if they are fighting a fire or dealing with hazardous materials. The vests don't mesh with standards set by the National Fire Protection Association, the folks who set the safety bar for firefighters. Not that they want firefighters to be targets for drunken or distracted drivers – but they also want to keep firefighters from getting burned and melted.

Curiosity killed the cat. But curiosity could kill a very nice tow truck driver with a wife and kids at home if you can't manage to keep your eyes on the road and not on the flashing lights on the side of the highway. If you need to know about it, it'll be on the 11 p.m. news.

Contact the writer: 714-796-7829 or kedds@ocregister.com

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