In the towing industry, a primary incident is one where a motor vehicle accident occurs, or a vehicle is left abandoned in the roadway. Both of these can be hazardous to everyone in and around the area. And in many cases the Missouri State Highway Patrol is responsible for clearing the scene, but are they serving the interests of the traveling public or their own?

On their website, The Tennessee Department of Transportation’s  discusses the hazards surrounding primary incidents. They say that, “Studies prove the likelihood of a secondary crash increases by 2.8 percent for each minute the primary incident continues to be a hazard.” And, “As much as 25% of all traffic incidents are secondary crashes, and up to 20% of those involve serious injuries or fatalities.”

So the longer a primary incident lasts in or nearby passing traffic the higher the odds of a secondary accident are of occurring. What this means is the longer it takes for a tow truck to arrive, perform the accident recovery, hook-up the car, and clean up the scene, the higher the chances of another accident are of occurring.

If your job doesn’t require you to work in 70 + mile per hour traffic you should be thankful. Those who do work in these conditions know the difference a few minutes can make when removing wrecked and abandoned vehicles from the roadway.

But the towers don’t do it by themselves. To remove wrecked and abandoned vehicles from the roadway, towers must have the authorization of law enforcement. Law enforcement’s first job is to protect the traveling public, then property.  So the first priority of removing wrecked and abandoned vehicles from the roadway is a public safety issue aimed at ensuring secondary accidents do not occur.

Of course most motorists could care less about these issues until it affects them.

For example, what if the towing company called by law enforcement had to travel a long distance to get to the incident and your loved ones were patiently waiting in the line of traffic? Your interest might be piqued. But you may question why a law enforcement officer would decide to call a towing company from such a long distance?

While it’s true that, in some rural areas, the closest available towing company must travel a long distance, most cities have rules in place that ensure there’s always a tow truck available when needed. They do this by accessing a list of local, available, and capable towing companies and use what’s called a rotation list to determine which company should be sent to the scene of the accident. This rotation allows the towing companies involved to plan ahead and invest in the manpower and equipment necessary to be available whenever the need arises.

But this is not the case in all instances. In the state of Missouri, if you go outside the city limits you find yourself within the jurisdiction controlled by the Missouri State Highway Patrol. And when you’re there all bets are off.  There is no such rotation list.

Relying only on personal knowledge of existing towers, and the relationships they have in the area, the Missouri Highway Patrol leaves the decision of what towing company to call to the individual State Trooper on the scene.

Although this arrangement may have worked in the past in some of the more rural areas where few towers operate, this outdated and flawed method leaves a lot to be desired. Besides leaving the door open to claims of corruption, and kickbacks from favored towers to less than scrupulous Troopers, the real problem is the heightened chance of a secondary accident occurring. Precisely because of this arrangement.

If, for example, a State Trooper, had a relationship with a tower who was located 20 or 30 miles away from the scene of an accident, and the vehicles involved were blocking traffic; If the Trooper chose to call his buddy, a friend with a tow truck, instead of the nearest available tower, this would create longer, unnecessary lines of traffic, and increase the time spent for waiting motorists. This invariably increases the likelihood of a secondary accident.

15 minutes waiting to see the dentist can be excruciating but waiting 15 minutes longer than necessary in traffic can be a matter of life and death. And as the Tennessee Department of Transportation cites, you’re 42% more likely to be involved in a secondary accident if you’re required to wait that long.

So why would the Missouri State Highway Patrol continue on this path? Why would they put the safety of motorists above their own autonomy? It’s a good question.  If you’d like an answer contact Superintendent Colonel J. Bret Johnson at 573-751-1000.