Along I-90 in Massachusetts (and I presume elsewhere in the state), there is a digital billboard which sometimes displays a message from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation that a tow truck driver is killed every six days in the US. (I'd love to find a picture of it, but as I'm driving when I see it I haven't been able to take one.) Certainly the message that one needs to be careful on the roads, especially when there are emergency and service vehicles around, is an important one and a good reminder. But 60 or so deaths a year for tow truck drivers sounds like an awful lot.

I've tried doing some research into the source of this statistic, and I've found news articles quoting somebody said it, but I haven't found the underlying source of this number. The closest I've found is a blog post on the MassDOT's site which says:

The Statewide Towing Association “STA” of Massachusetts, a member of the TIM Network, estimates that a tow truck operator is killed on the job every 6 days, totaling upwards of 60 deaths per year.

But I don't know where the STA got this number from. Is this an accurate description of how often tow truck drivers are killed in the US? Is it specifically about “on-the-job” deaths, or does it include other causes that just happen to have killed tow truck drivers?

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    While I'm certainly curious how the on-the-job fatality rate for tow truck drivers compares to other jobs, particularly ones that involve being alongside roads such as road construction workers, crossing guards, and police officers, I thought that my question should be focused on just the truth of the main statement if I understand how this site works correctly. But if people want to bring in comparisons in their answers to help explain if the rate is high or low in some sense, I certainly wouldn't object. – user44729 Apr 19 '18 at 12:26
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    "60 or so deaths a year for tow truck drivers sounds like an awful lot" - it's important to specify if that's on-the-job accidents, especially if filtering to ones where the driver isn't actively driving (as implied if the main goal of the message is to increase caution when driving through areas where roadside assistance is being rendered), or total deaths. It is quite easy to believe that 60+ tow truck drivers die each year from causes unrelated to their profession. – WBT Jul 10 '19 at 21:02
  • Can't speak for Massachusetts, but here in central Utah, tow truck operators are generally regarded as little better than "car thieves that happen to be licensed." Just about anyone can tell you a horror story about having their car towed and held ransom for no valid reason and being unable to get the police or the courts to do anything about it, and a lot of people around here would welcome a higher on-the-job death and/or injury rate for them! – Mason Wheeler Nov 10 '19 at 17:21

Well, looking at the census data for fatalities due to transportation incidents and homicides... following the links from www.osha.gov....

https://stats.bls.gov/iif/oshcfoi1.htm#2016 OSHA says 26 fatal injuries in the industry of Motor Vehicle Towing in 2016 (line 568) (link from Static charts, Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, 2016)

2003 numbers says 28

2005 numbers say 35

So... I think it's at least plausible that there was some year where the statistics coudl be stretched to say 60. Certainly, I'm willing to believe that there was at least one year that had 60+ overall deaths among tow truck drivers. It doesn't look like you got 60 deaths of tow truck drivers purely from motor vehicle accidents, though.

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  • The OSHA data has 0 in the column for ""Violence and other injuries by persons or animals" for all these years, so I think OSHA doesn't track the violence data for tow-truck drivers, since that number doesn't pass the smell test, since I've seen at least a few articles about tow-truck drivers being shot by people they tried to tow over that time frame. – Eugene Nov 13 '19 at 23:44
  • It would be interesting to know, regarding those deaths, how many were accidents (e.g. hit by a car while towing along a highway or street) and how many were due to violence (e.g. during a vehicle repossession). – Kyralessa Jul 2 at 12:39

I've personally been recording tow operator deaths since the first one I discovered occurred in October 6, 1934.

Since then, more than 945 tow operators worldwide have been killed in line-of-duty incidents regarding all kinds of reasons; vehicle accidents, crashed, overturned, ejected, struck as pedestrian workers, shootings, stabbings, choked to death, runaway tow truck, run-over by, etc.

As many as 133 towers were killed working America's and Canada's highways. The OSHA statistics that you refer to are only those killed in industrial accidents.

The towing and recovery is a dangerous profession. These numbers don't reflect the hundreds and thousands of operator injuries suffered at the hands of others. For example, there are months like February 2019, 8 operators were killed, June 2019, 7 operators killed, and October 2019, 7 operators were killed in 23 days. If one goes with the tally of month to month, one could assume that 60 per month might be an average.

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    Welcome to Skeptics.SE. It sounds like you have an interesting data record, but here at Skeptics we don't trust people's claims unless they back them up with data or sources that we can all examine. If you could edit your answer to share with us your records of tow truck driver fatalities that would go a long way. You should also include how you find these fatalities and what your standards are for counting. – BobTheAverage Nov 10 '19 at 2:43
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    Welcome to Skeptics! Have you published this data anywhere we people can check it and see how others have responded to it. Right now, it is personal anecdote and self-research, and no way of assessing whether it is true and whether it always applies. (We can't even be sure you are the person you claim to be.) Therefore, they are not acceptable here. This answer we be deleted in accordance with policy if it isn't edited to add references. – Oddthinking Nov 10 '19 at 3:37
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    @Oddthinking this (self-research) doesn't appear to fall under any of the three categories specified in the linked meta post. Perhaps the meta post needs to be edited? It seems incorrect to call someone on failing a meta check that they aren't actually failing, and, in particular, the meta post offers no advice for this case. – Ben Barden Nov 11 '19 at 21:44

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