Tow trucks provide a valuable service to those who need vehicles transported, oftentimes as a result of mechanical failure. Yet, tow truck drivers who make poor choices while driving and negligent trucking companies put other motorists at risk for severe and deadly truck accidents. Truck accidents always carry a greater risk because trucks weigh much more than the average vehicle. The large size and mass create more property damage, more severe injuries, and higher chances for death when an accident occurs. Tow trucks have distinctive characteristics which make them prone to certain types of accidents and some of the most dangerous commercial trucks on the road.
This guide provides in-depth information about tow trucks including the different types you might come upon when driving, causes of tow truck accidents, and steps you can take if you suffer harm in a traffic crash with a tow truck. As you learn more about tow truck accidents, you will be better equipped to avoid causing one or falling victim to a tow truck accident.
Types of Tow Trucks
You likely know tow trucks pull or haul other motor vehicles, but you might not be aware of the four major types of tow trucks you will see on Pennsylvania’s roads and highways. Each of the following tow trucks poses different risks which might lead to a severe or fatal traffic accident:
Flatbed Tow Trucks
Many towing companies prefer to use flatbed tow trucks, also called rollback tow trucks. Although they have no sides or roof, in most cases, using a flatbed is the safest method to transport a passenger vehicle. Technically flatbed tow trucks don’t really tow a vehicle. The trucks have long bed, which drivers can move up and down with hydraulics. Once the bed is lowered, drivers can pull their vehicles on the bed by driving up the ramp. In the event a vehicle won’t start, operators use straps or chains to pull the vehicle onto the truck. Flatbed tow trucks pose significant risk to other drivers if operators don’t get the vehicle(s) tied down securely. This might not be as big of a deal with a heavy vehicle, but it is especially important if the truck is carrying lighter cars, motorcycles, or boats. If the cargo comes off the truck it can crush other vehicles or cause a road hazard which some cars might not be able to avoid.
Hook and Chain Tow Trucks
Once the most popular choice for towing companies, hook and chain tow trucks are not as common as they once were. With a hook and chain tow truck, the operator attaches a hook to the front end of the vehicle and hoists the two front wheels off the ground. When the tow truck operator drives away, he or she is literally dragging the vehicle by its back two tires. This method of towing puts ample pressure on a vehicle, often causing damage.
Additionally, using a hook and chain tow truck on an all-wheel drive vehicle or a four-wheel drive vehicle can damage a vehicle’s drivetrain. Many car owners and towing companies prefer not to tow cars with a hook and chain truck because of the risk of damage, so they are often reserved for hauling old jalopies and wrecked vehicles. This, however, can lead to a severe accident. Old, rusty wrecks might not have a hook available or the metal on the bumper or other part of the car might not be strong enough to withstand the pressure of towing. If the vehicle comes loose, it can cause a severe, even fatal accident, especially at higher speeds.
Wheel Lift Tow Trucks
A wheel lift tow truck is the upgraded version of the hook and chain tow truck. Both types of trucks work similarly, but the wheel lift truck uses a metal yoke and hydraulics to lift the rear tires off the ground. Wheel lift tow trucks typically transport vehicles from the back, but has capabilities to hook to the front end of a vehicle too. Wheel and lift trucks also distribute the weight of the vehicle they are towing more evenly, so they are less likely to cause damage. Like hook and chain trucks, wheel lift trucks pose risk to other motorists if the metal yoke isn’t attached securely to the vehicle the truck is towing. If the vehicle being towed comes loose, it can cause severe damage, injury, or fatality to nearby motorists.
Integrated Tow Trucks
An integrated tow truck is a specialty tow truck used to tow large vehicles such as semi-cabs, other trucks, or buses. These tow trucks have extra axles to provide the strength and stability needed to tow heavier vehicles. Most integrated tow trucks also have a boom arm which is attached in the center of the truck which is used to lift vehicles. Many hook and chain and wheel lift tow trucks have an arm, but it’s usually mounted on the back of the trucks, so they aren’t quite as stable as integrated models. When everything is connected and secured correctly, integrated tow trucks are safe. Yet, if a heavy truck or bus comes loose from the tow trucks, the consequences are severe, sometimes fatal.
Causes of Tow Truck Accidents
Causes of tow truck accidents aren’t much different than causes of other motor vehicle accidents, at least on a broad level. Yet, the special characteristics of tow trucks introduce some causes specific to tow trucks. Like other commercial truck accidents, the size of tow truck vehicles can cause severe damage and injury when accidents do occur. Causes of tow truck accidents include the following:
Federal law prohibits those who hold a commercial driver’s license (CDL), including tow truck drivers, from using a cell phone while operating a truck. Drivers can only use cell phones to talk to others as long as they use a headset, voice recognition, or other hands-free feature to initiate a call with no more than one button. Other distractions that might contribute to an accident include daydreaming, eating and drinking, reaching for something on the floor, or anything that distracts a tow truck driver from the task at hand.
Tow truck drivers and other CDL holders must not have more than a 0.04 percent blood alcohol concentration when driving, cannot use illegal drugs, and must be careful to take prescriptions as directed. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requires trucking companies to perform random drug and alcohol screenings to ensure drivers comply with the law. Using controlled substances while driving a tow truck doesn’t only impact driving, but impaired drivers might not operate hydraulics correctly or make a mistake when tying down a vehicle, resulting in a serious tow truck accident.
Operating a tow truck requires more than just jumping in the truck and driving. Tow truck drivers must learn how to load and tow a vehicle. Not only does this require some classroom learning, but also on-the-job training. Inexperienced drivers can make several mistakes which might lead to a serious tow truck accident, such as towing rusty vehicles better suited for a flatbed tow truck or failing to completely secure a vehicle. Tow truck drivers must learn how to handle towing a vehicle when they are driving around corners, backing, and making any other maneuvers. When an inexperienced tow truck driver causes an accident, his or her employer might share liability because they didn’t provide proper training.
Poor Truck Maintenance
Trucks of all types must be roadworthy to prevent mechanical failures which can lead to a breakdown. The FMSCA requires trucking companies to keep maintenance records and perform regular inspections to maintain safety on the road. Unfortunately, some towing companies don’t comply with the rules all of the time. Tow trucks have more parts which can lead to serious accidents, requiring companies to pay close attention to hydraulic cylinders, chains, straps, and any other part of the towing mechanism. Old or worn out parts can cause the truck to lose a vehicle, causing a severe accident. Inspecting run-of-the-mill items such as brake systems and tires are just as crucial. A tire blowout can cause a driver to lose control and might lead to a rollover collision, one of the most deadly of all truck accidents.
Third Party Motorists
When accidents occur on the road, most know they must pull to the side of the road when police, ambulance, and fire trucks make their way to the scene of an accident. Under Pennsylvania law, tow trucks are emergency vehicles. Drivers must pull to the side of the road to let them by. Failure to yield right of way to a tow truck headed to an accident is not only illegal, but it can lead to deadly crashes or rollovers. Trucks are often traveling at higher speeds than normal when headed to an accident, increasing the risk of severe bodily injury and fatality if an accident occurs.
Steps After a Tow Truck Accident
If you find yourself in a collision with a tow truck, you need to take the following steps to maximize the chances of your insurance company approving your claim and having a positive outcome from any related personal injury suit against the driver or towing company.
- Seek immediate medical treatment. Emergency responders will probably show up at the scene of the accident, including one or more ambulances. Even if you were lucky enough to walk away from a tow truck accident, you need to let a doctor examine you for common traffic accident injuries. Some injuries don’t show symptoms right away and adrenaline from the accident might be shielding you from pain. A medical examination will be part of your permanent medical record which will provide valuable evidence for insurance companies and the court. Your medical record also provides leverage for an attorney to negotiate a settlement on your behalf.
- Gather information. Pennsylvania is a no-fault insurance state, but drivers can opt-out of the system. Regardless of what type of coverage you have, make sure to get the name of the tow truck driver, the company name, the license plate number, truck number, and insurance information for your records. Law enforcement will also get this information, so if you are not physically able, it’s okay. Also, get contact information from any eyewitnesses which might have stopped at the scene of the accident.
- Take photos at the scene. If you are physically able, take photos of any property damage at the scene of the accident. This includes damage to your vehicle and damage to the tow truck. You should also take photos of any hazards which might have caused the accident and any visible injuries to your body. If you did not record the license plate, you can also snap a picture of the license plates of any vehicles involved in the accident. Photographic evidence supports your claim and makes it difficult for liable parties to fight the facts of the accident.
- Don’t talk to insurance companies. In the days after your tow truck accident, the towing company’s insurance carrier might contact you and offer a quick settlement for your injuries. This is a tactic insurance companies use to avoid paying large settlements or court-awarded damages later on. These offers are attractive, but often lower than what you deserve. When you accept one, you waive your right to sue. It’s always in your best interest to consider early offers as a starting point for negotiations and let your attorney negotiate higher compensation.
A Tow Truck Accident Attorney Can Answer Your Questions
If a tow truck driver’s or a towing company’s negligence led to an accident in which you sustained injuries, you shouldn’t have to shoulder the financial burden which comes with a severe injury. You deserve compensation for losses related to the accident and injury. Contact an experienced Philadelphia tow truck accident attorney for a free consultation to determine your eligibility for compensation and find the best course of action for your individual circumstances.