There were no lights flashing on this flatbed tow truck parked along W. Marine View Drive on Saturday. (Sue Misao / The Herald)

There were no lights flashing on this flatbed tow truck parked along W. Marine View Drive on Saturday. (Sue Misao / The Herald)

As flashing lights appear, when must drivers pull over?

Tow trucks heading toward a scene should be given the right of way, just like emergency responders.

Most drivers know the drill when flashing lights appear in the rear view mirror accompanied by a siren as a police car or ambulance approaches. But what are the rules for tow trucks? Should they be treated like an emergency vehicle?

My colleague, Andrea Brown, posed this question after seeing a tow truck, with its lights flashing, run two red lights recently on the Mukilteo Speedway heading toward a car in need. Some drivers moved over, including Brown, giving the truck room. Others didn’t, she said.

“Do I have to pull over?” she asked. “Nobody knew what to do.”

In this case, the tow truck should be treated like an emergency vehicle or police car, and cars should move over to let it pass.

“The quicker they get there the quicker the roadway is reopened,” said Heather Axtman, a Washington State Patrol trooper.

When on a freeway, shift over a lane or two if possible, and slow down to give the tow truck, ambulance, fire truck or police car enough space. But don’t stop.

“Stopping in a lane is extremely dangerous,” she said.

Axtman said responders often use the HOV lanes on interstates when trying to get to a scene.

If traveling on a road with only one lane in each direction, drivers should move over to the right side and come to a stop.

But that tow truck my fellow reporter saw should have been obeying traffic signals.

“They can’t run red lights, they are not an emergency responder,” Axtman said. “They have to yield to the light.”

For emergency vehicles stopped on the side of the freeway, and this includes tow trucks and the state Department of Transportation’s Incident Response Team, vehicles are required to move over a lane if that can be safely done, and if not, reduce speed. On smaller roads, drivers should reduce their speed, Axtman said.

Drivers should always be aware of their surroundings, she said. Axtman recommends glancing constantly in all of the car’s mirrors and ahead in the roadway to be prepared for what could be coming.

Got a question? Email me at or call 425-374-4165. Please include your name and city of residence.

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