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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

NY Town Weighs Tow Truck Access Law

Here's the story from the Poughkeepsie Journal:
HYDE PARK — The town plans to restrict the arrival of tow truck operators at crash scenes to ensure ambulances and police have sufficient access.

At the request of Hyde Park police Chief Don Goddard, the town has drafted a proposal to establish a rotational tow list. Except for the tow truck dispatched or requested, no others would be permitted within 300 feet of a traffic accident.

"Let us do our jobs," Goddard said.

The proposed regulations have raised objections from tow truck operators in Hyde Park. Some say they frequently perform valuable services at accident scenes before ambulances and police arrive — such as assisting injured or trapped victims and directing traffic — which the 300-foot buffer zone would prevent.

"Three-hundred feet is a long way to yell if you need help," tow truck operator Tim Burns of Hyde Park said. "We should be at hand's reach if they need us."

Hyde Park is not the first town to consider such a restriction. The Town of Poughkeepsie has a policy that establishes a tow list and restricts trucks not at the top of the list from entering a zone around the accident scene.

"It seems to work fairly well," said Poughkeepsie Councilman Todd Tancredi, R-6th Ward.

Hyde Park board members say it has been the practice of some tow truck operators to monitor police radio transmissions and rush to accident scenes with the intent of getting the job towing the disabled vehicles and possibly any repair work.

The arrival of multiple tow trucks at times has hampered the efforts of rescue personnel and impeded police investigations, police said.

"Our only goal is to get the accident scene cleared as soon as possible," Horan said.

Bill Steenbergh, chief of the Roosevelt Fire Department, said while most tow truck operators are more of a help than a hindrance at accident scenes, a law is needed to regulate the few who create access problems.

"The majority of the tow truck drivers have been cooperative," he said. "There are a few bad apples."

The fire chief chided the town board at its workshop meeting for not including the input of any local fire departments in drafting the towing law.

In many cases, fire department rescue squads are the first medical providers at accident scenes. Firefighters also play vital roles in extricating victims trapped in cars at crash scenes, he said.

"It seems like the biggest part of this hasn't been brought into the discussion," Steenbergh said.

Town Supervisor Tom Martino said an upcoming public hearing on the proposed regulations will provide opportunities for input that could lead to changes in law.

"Don't take this as written in stone," he said.

Goddard expressed frustration with the time it's taken for the town to enact a tow list policy. The previous Democratic administration began work last year on a law that drew objections from town truck operators and some residents. The newly elected GOP board drafted a new version of the law in January.

"This has been going on for a year," Goddard said. "It took Thomas Jefferson 17 days to write the Declaration of Independence."

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