Highway Heroes at Risk

Study Examines Characteristics of Fatal Roadside Worker Crashes
AAA Mid States

AAA Research Points to Speed, Impairment, and Distraction as Likely Factors for Many Roadside Crashes


Struck and killed – nearly four times more than reported. It’s the chilling reality for roadside assistance providers, including tow truck drivers, mobile mechanics, emergency roadside technicians, and safety service patrols who put themselves at risk every day to help others.  A new study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reveals a disturbing picture of the dangers faced by those working on the side of the road, and the numbers may be getting worse.

“Understanding the circumstances and causes for fatal crashes involving roadside workers is vital if we are serious about saving lives,” said Dr. David Yang, president and executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “Many of these crashes can be avoided if drivers focus on driving and observe the law by slowing down and moving over when they see roadside assistance providers performing their duties.”

AAA Foundation researchers combed through diverse information sources and uncovered 123 roadside assistance providers killed by passing vehicles between 2015 and 2021. This grim figure dwarfs the approximate 34 noted in national crash data. The discrepancy is due to a persistent failure of state police crash report forms to capture that crash victims were roadside assistance providers and were often recorded as “pedestrians.” While yearly total traffic fatalities increased significantly over the study period, the data suggest that roadside assistance provider fatalities increased even more.

Next Steps

AAA urges action on several fronts:

  • Slow Down, Move Over: Reinforce these life-saving laws, reminding drivers to give space to ANYONE (including but not limited to roadside assistance, police, fire, EMS) working on the side of the road. Every ounce of awareness could be the difference between life and death.

  • Shield the Vulnerable: Utilize countermeasures to prevent vehicles from striking workers. The Foundation previously examined vehicle-mounted electronic variable message signs and found them effective at alerting drivers to slow down and move over.

  • Train for survival: Teach roadside workers to prioritize work away from traffic and equip them with strategies to avoid harm's way. Training for roadside assistance providers should emphasize the importance of not working or standing on the traffic-facing side of the incident whenever possible and minimize time spent on the traffic-facing side of the scene.

“Let’s remember this study is about real people, not statistics,” said Jake Nelson, AAA’s traffic safety and advocacy director.  “It’s a shared responsibility to solve this safety challenge.  Roadside workers and all of us who drive by them have to take action to move towards zero traffic deaths.”

The AAA Foundation’s research reinforces the importance of the Safe System Approach (SSA) to transportation planning. The SSA is a strategic way of leveraging the engineering and behavioral countermeasures proven effective at preventing traffic crashes and the injuries that can result from them.  The AAA Foundation study results suggest that full compliance with Move Over laws isn’t enough.  States also must address factors like speed, impaired driving, and distraction that lead to road departure crashes.  


For complete details on the research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, go to AAAFoundation.org.