The in basket: It was back in the 1970’s, I think, when my wife of the time and I got surprised by a sudden snowfall while visiting near Kitsap Lake, and had to get home to Long Lake as the roads rapidly worsened.
We wound up paying $10 to one fellow who was making some quick cash by towing stuck motorists to the top of Mile Hill in South Kitsap when we couldn’t get traction to make it ourselves.
It was a brief victory. Within minutes, we had skidded into the ditch on Long Lake Road. After a three-mile walk almost to home, two friendly fellows came along in a four-wheel drive truck and offered to take us back and fetch our car.
I’ve often though what a mean trick it would have been if they’d let us out back at the car and drove off, leaving us another three-mile trek. But they were just good Samaritans and rescued us and our car at no charge.
I was reminded of that night when a reader briefly got the misimpression from a friend that, during one of our few snows this winter, a deputy sheriff came upon him towing another driver out of the ditch and said he could be ticketed for doing that.
It turned out there was no such threat, but it left me wondering if it’s legal to do it.
The out basket: First I asked Deputy Sheriff Scott Wilson, who looked into it and found no law against it. “If you are a private person and not doing it for hire, you can pull someone out of the ditch and even tow the vehicle, if someone is in the vehicle and it’s properly lighted,” he said. .
“Most important,” he added, “if you’re going to pull someone, you need to have safety chains between the two vehicles” to be legal.
I next asked State Trooper Russ Winter about it and he agreed there is no specific law prohibiting it.
“However,” he said, ” the WSP in most cases discourages private towing from collision scenes in snow events. Very few are ‘simple pullouts’ where there is no blocking the road or jockeying for position to accomplish the task.
“Any activity such as this along the highway is very dangerous for everyone involved,” he said. “When you are at or near the crashed vehicle you are in what we call ‘the glide path,’ meaning if other vehicles lose control in the same area (which occurs often) you are in a dangerous place.
“Private vehicles are not equipped with emergency lights and equipment and increase the hazard. As a result we discourage it.
“That is not to say we have not taken advantage of a 4×4 truck with a tow strap to do a quick pull out,” he said. “We have. I have.”
“There is a certain liability involved. As such we use licensed and trained professional towing in most cases in urban core areas.
“More rural areas may resort – at times – to private tows, if they are on scene and the pullout is relatively simple.
Anything more complicated and we will wait for proper equipment and personnel to do the job in the safest manner.”