Franco Missaglia’s livelihood is the road. As a tow truck operator, he’s out there every day picking up the pieces when things go wrong.
But more and more he’s worried that it will be him or one of his drivers at Code 12 Towing Service that will need recovering from the side of a freeway.
Like everyone else in the industry, he just wants to come home to his family.
“If the coppers aren’t there, we’re not safe. It’s as simple as that,” he said.
“There’s just a perception that if you’re a tow truck driver, you’re fair game. Anywhere can be a danger, particularly if it’s an 80km/h zone and up.”
Mr Missaglia is part of a group of tow truck drivers calling for a new road rule forcing drivers to slow down to 40km/h for emergency vehicles to be extended to them, after a man’s arm was recently severed while working on the side of a freeway.
The 30-year-old tow truck driver was picking up a broken-down car on Peninsula Link on November 14 when a car allegedly swerved into the emergency lane and hit him.
The driver, Nathan Cameron, was charged with dangerous driving causing injury.
That incident and other near misses has prompted tow truck drivers to demand safer working conditions, including a petition to Roads Minister Luke Donnellan signed by more than 6500 people.
The new 40km/h traffic rule introduced on July 1 is limited to vehicles with red, blue or magenta flashing lights. The RACV criticised the introduction of the rule, warning that it was impractical on some roads.
Petition organiser Michael Burgess, who has been in the industry for over 20 years, said working on freeways made many drivers nervous.
“At 100km/h or even at 80km/h you don’t want to be laying on the side of the road and not knowing what’s going to happen next,” he said.
Police will only attend a broken-down car if it is involved in a collision, he said, meaning tow truck drivers are on their own most of the time. The exception is roads like CityLink, which have recovery vehicles.
Mr Burgess said the average load time for his trucks was five minutes.
“All we’re asking is if people can slow down for five minutes it makes us feel a little bit safer,” he said.
Nationwide Towing and Transport operations manager Mark Beveridge said some of the company’s staff had been put through counselling since the injury to their driver on Peninsula Link. The man is still in hospital in a stable condition.
To improve safety, the company sometimes sends more than one truck to a job to provide protection.
“Obviously it’s devastating for everyone,” he said.
Mr Donnellan said VicRoads was looking at the effectiveness of the new rule before considering whether it could be extended to other special-purpose vehicles.
It is understood that changing the legislation is not as simple as including tow trucks with yellow lights, as it would give them other powers extended to emergency vehicles.
“Everyone should slow down when they approach a vehicle with flashing lights and pass at a safe speed,” he said.
Nick Kouta, from Specialized Towing, said one of the troubling things about other drivers not giving them space is that tow trucks are there to clear traffic jams.
“People don’t slow down. If you’re in the emergency lane people will still come past you at 100km/h,” he said.
“I’ve been doing this 18 years, every time you lay down on a freeway you can’t wait to get out of there.”
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