Motor vehicle towing: An analysis of injuries in a high-risk yet understudied industry

Mark D. Chandler, Terry L. Bunn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Objectives: National fatality rates for commercial tow truck operators exceed those of other first responders who also perform traffic incident management services. The objectives of the current study are to (1) characterize causal factors associated with injuries among commercial tow truck operators engaged in roadside assistance through analysis of coded and free text data obtained from U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigation files, and (2) utilize supplemental data sources to analyze environmental factors for injuries in which commercial tow truck operators were struck by roadway traffic. Methods: Searches of OSHA's online IMIS database were performed to identify investigations of incidents in which tow truck operators were injured while performing roadside assistance duties. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests were submitted to obtain full investigation files for each case. Coded and narrative text analyses were performed to identify causal themes across the identified cases. Results: One-hundred and six cases of tow truck operators being killed or severely injured were identified in IMIS; 41 FOIA requests for related investigation documents were fulfilled. Two major event type themes were identified which accounted for 9 in 10 of the cases identified. These were (1) ‘struck-by’ incidents, which were primarily injuries resulting from contact with roadway traffic, rolling vehicles and equipment or other non-motorized objects; and (2) ‘caught-in or -between’ incidents, which were primarily injuries resulting from being pinned beneath and between vehicles and being caught in moving parts. Conclusions: The towing industry should provide initial and refresher safety training on vehicle loading and unloading, defensive techniques when exposed to traffic on roadways, and proper wheel chocking and braking procedures. States should include tow trucks as a first responder vehicle type in their “Move Over” laws and implement public awareness campaigns to protect all first responders, including tow truck operators.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)191-200
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Safety Research
StatePublished - Dec 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 National Safety Council and Elsevier Ltd


  • Catastrophe
  • Fatality
  • Motor vehicle towing
  • OSHA
  • Tow truck operator

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Building and Construction
  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality


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