Tow truck driver: Plan, slow down, be safe
December 25, 2003
By Jeff Munson
Tribune city editor
Waiting for the rain to turn to snow, Leanne Aalmo spent Christmas Eve fixing the tools of her trade, anticipating a busy holiday weekend.
The owner of V&B Towing runs her two tow trucks – a Dodge one-ton and a Ford 1.5 ton – until something inevitably breaks down, just like the cars and trucks that she tows daily on the roads.
In the 20 years she’s been in the business, the holidays are the busiest. Christmas Eve for Aalmo netted four spinouts where she pulled motorists out of ditches and two recoveries, where she took totaled autos into the shop.
She typically charges $45 a tow and swears that it is the lowest on the South Shore, which might explain why on the side of her truck it says “the cheapest hooker in town.”
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On Thursday, after spending the morning snowmobiling, she returned to the road, helping stranded motorists who – more likely than not – took a turn too fast in the ice and found themselves in a ditch.
Take it from a tow truck driver who knows, Aalmo’s advice to motorists is to drive defensively and slow down.
“My business depends a lot on people who make mistakes driving. Still, it comes down to common sense. In snow, you have to slow down and plan it out,” Aalmo said.
The most common mistake people driving in the snow make is an over-reliance on brakes, she said. Many motorists fail to recognize that they cannot brake on snow like they do on pavement.
“The way people not used to driving up here use their brakes, it can kill you,” she said. “When it’s icy, it doesn’t matter if you have chains on or not, you still have to give yourself a couple hundred feet of planning time before you make a move.”
Another fallacy that motorists have is that they think if they have four-wheel drive, they won’t spin-out.
“An SUV or a four-wheel drive is made to help you get through snow easier but it doesn’t mean you’re invincible,” she said. “The weight of the vehicle alone only makes sliding in the snow worse.”
Motorists have to gauge the conditions ahead of time, but a safe driving speed is about 10 mph below posted speed limit in ice or snow. Stopping should be planned out 300 feet in advance, with less emphasis on brakes and more on downshifting, she said.
Once you are in an accident, icy road conditions make it hazardous for motorists to step outside of their car.
When people install chains or if they have been in an accident, they need to be off the side of the road away from traffic, said Sean Ward, captain with the South Lake Tahoe Fire Department.
“At least a couple times a year we will get calls where people will be chaining up or in an accident, and get hit by oncoming traffic,” Ward said.
Two years ago, fire personnel responded to a man who was killed when he was hit by a car as he bent down. The man’s head was smashed between his bumper and the vehicle that hit him, Ward said. It’s also advised that people who are walking on the side of the road do so against traffic.