Ohio tow truck drivers working overtime can be unsafe

Posted at 5:44 PM, Dec 14, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-15 12:00:48-05

You know not to get behind the wheel if you've had too much to drink, but we've recently been telling you about how being sleepy can be just as bad.

News 5 looked into this problem and how dangerous it can be for one particular industry.

"It could be fatal, it really could, because a sleepy driver is no worse or no better than an impaired driver," expressed Lt. Marvin Hill from the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

Those most likely to experience drowsiness behind the wheel, are commercial vehicles like tow truck drivers.

"The guys work long hours, they have to," explained Michael Tomasko, President of Rich's Towing & Service.

And once the snowfall hits, his employee, David Lewis knows he'll be spending more and more time away from his bed.

“Business does spike," Lewis said. “Sometimes it's easier for us timeframe wise to get more sleep to just sleep in the car, or in the truck than to go home and waste time."

He told us he'll normally work close to 14 hour days in the winter, and that's considered pretty good, given he works for a larger company where they have the capability of doing split shifts. For small business towers, it's even greater.

"With smaller companies, you're the only one on the truck, the call volume stops, when you stop taking calls," Lewis explained.

So who is monitoring their amount of work to sleep ratio?

“It's vital that the company monitors what type of hours their employees are putting in," Lt. Hill said.

There are rules set by the Public Utilities of Commission of Ohio or PUCO, where drivers are only allowed to work 11 hour shifts, unless they go on a police call, and are exempt.

"We kind of work hand and hand, it's very vital because we can't toe the vehicles," Lt. Hill said.

But the main way they'd even find out about violations is on the off chance a highway patrol officer pulls them over.

“My employees can go out and stop these tow truck drivers and ensure that they're not sleepy drivers," Lt. Hill highlighted.

So while there are rules, it appears things are left more in the gray.

We asked Lt. Hill if he hoped or wished the rules were a little bit more stringent towers.

He responded by saying, “Well I'm not in the position to say... it's all about the driver, trying to make sure the drivers are safe, and sometimes drivers are out there too long and that's a concern."

For Lewis, he told us the excitement of the job is what keeps him alert and awake.

“But we're in and out the truck, there's a lot of things going on, the adrenaline is going, so that's that's how we deal with it."

If a Tow Truck driver takes a call in a different state, like Pennsylvania, they are subject to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, where the work hours are more stringent. There are currently groups lobbying to get Ohio legislators on board with more of a uniform set of rules for towers across the State.