Tow truck and wrecker operators must follow certain state and federal regulations for visibility. These regulations include the use of truck-mounted lighting, reflector strips, and any auxiliary lighting necessary to make towing operation safe. Both drivers and the operators that own tow trucks and wreckers must be cognizant of the rules.
Where many companies fall down is in their interpretation of the rules. First and foremost, there are two federal agencies with jurisdiction in this area: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Administration (FMCSA). Individual states may have their own regulations to worry about as well.
The NHTSA rules apply to all new vehicles as they come off the assembly line. Because these rules change over time, the version of the rules in place when a truck was manufactured are the rules that apply to that truck. As for the FMCSA rules, they apply to all tow trucks and wreckers currently in service regardless of when they were manufactured.
Tow Truck and Wrecker Lights
Both sets of rules stipulate that tow trucks and wreckers have to be as visible as possible. Lighting plays a role here. For example, tow trucks and wreckers usually have either strobes or rotating lights affixed to the top of the truck cab. Lights may be visible in all directions or, in some states, just from the front and sides.
Trucks must obviously be equipped with proper turn signals and taillights, and also running lights in some cases. Flatbed wreckers are a good example. Wreckers need additional lighting on the sides along with reflectors or reflecting tape. The idea here is to make sure that the flatbed portion of the truck is clearly visible from all directions.
Finally, both tow trucks and wreckers must be equipped with clearance lights and backup lights. The former is designed to provide a visual for clearance on both the sides and top of the truck. The latter is intended to warn other drivers and pedestrians that a truck is backing up.
Auxiliary Lights for Towing
Tow truck operators have an additional responsibility that the drivers of wreckers do not have to worry about. They must affix auxiliary lights to a vehicle being towed. The need here should be obvious: the tail and brake lights of a towed vehicle are not in operation during transport.
Federal regulators instituted auxiliary lighting rules in 2005. According to Ohio-based Mytee Products, a company that sells towing lights, straps, chains and more, the regulations are very specific about wired and wireless lighting. As a general rule, wireless lights are not allowed unless their manufacturers obtain exemptions.
Auxiliary lighting must be connected to the tow trucks’ electrical system via a physical cable. Lighting must consist of turn signals, taillights, and brake lights. Lighting is affixed to the rear of the vehicle being towed with either magnets or suction.
More Specific State Regulations
Lastly, tow operators should be aware that there are more specific regulations in some states. A company that operates across state lines would have to be aware if the rules in the two states differ. For example, some states require truck-mounted lights be of a certain color.
Other states require truck-mounted lights capable of producing two colors. One color is used during transport while another is used when a truck is stopped on the side of the road to make a recovery. The idea here is to use a distinctly different color for recovery so as to visually alert drivers that a recovery operation is ongoing.