OKLAHOMA CITY – The Senate will soon be considering legislation designating Oklahoma’s wrecker safety statute in honor of an Oklahoma man who lost his life while on the job. Sen. Michael Brooks, D-Oklahoma City, is the principal Senate author of House Bill 1584, also known as Bernardo’s Law.
Born in Texas, Bernardo Martinez had lived in Oklahoma for 20 years and was working as a tow truck driver for around 8 months when his life was tragically cut short by an inattentive driver. He was loading a vehicle on the shoulder of H.E. Bailey Turnpike when a car veered off the road and struck him, amputating both of his legs and an arm. Since his death, Bernardo’s widow, Mayra, and her children have worked to promote pull over and slow down policies for wrecker drivers and requested that Oklahoma’s wrecker safety law be renamed in honor of her late husband.
“This bill isn’t about changing policy; it’s about raising awareness and protecting lives. We have laws for a reason but too many ignore them, which can be especially dangerous when it comes to driving laws. This simply names our wrecker safety statute in memory of Bernardo Martinez to help raise public awareness of the importance of following this particular law,” Brooks said. “When approaching a stopped wrecker, drivers are supposed to slow down and pull over leaving a lane of safe space for the tow truck driver to complete their work. Unfortunately, people aren’t following the law and many tow truck drivers, like Bernardo, are killed or seriously injured every year. We want Oklahomans to take this law seriously and protect these hardworking men and women so they can return safely to their families every day.
Under current Oklahoma law, drivers are required to take certain steps when approaching a stationary authorized emergency vehicle, a Department of Transportation or Turnpike Authority maintenance vehicle, a stationary vehicle that is displaying flashing lights or a licensed wrecker that is displaying a flashing amber light, a combination red or blue light or any combination of amber, red or blue lights. If traveling on a highway with two or more lanes, the driver, if possible, must move over to the next lane to avoid coming in close contact with the stopped vehicle. If that is not possible, the driver is to reduce their speed to an amount that accounts for the existing road, weather, and traffic conditions and allows them to safely pass the stopped vehicle.
HB 1584, by Rep. Mickey Dollens, D-Oklahoma City, was unanimously approved Monday afternoon by the Senate Public Safety Committee. It will next be heard by the full Senate.