DRIVING/TOWING - RECOVERY TECHNIQUES
Vehicle recovery is fraught with danger, as our accompanying guides in this 4WD Recovery section make very clear. Using your vehicle and recovery kit to aid others carries serious responsibilities.
There’s a lovely line in the classic Western movie, The Magnificent Seven – the 1960 original, not the 21st century remake – in which the arch-villain, Calvera (played by Eli Wallach) states his creed: “Sooner or later, you pay for every good deed!” This follows the Seven’s betrayal by the villagers they were trying to protect.
Doing what you feel is the right thing can sometimes bite you, as explained in Harry Luck’s (played by Brad Dexter) following line: “Sometimes you just have to turn mother’s picture to the wall and get out.”
‘What’s all this old-movie stuff got to do with helping stuck vehicles in the bush?’ I hear you cry. Quite a lot, as our experience and that of other helpers’ shows.
Firstly, we need to consider liability that may be incurred by rendering first aid, in the event of coming across an injured person.
Part of any accredited first aid course is a section devoted to legal liability.
Australian states and territories have Good Samaritan legislation, to ensure that people who provide emergency medical assistance are not held legally liable for their actions, provided they act in good faith.
This means that a Good Samaritan will enjoy legal immunity for actions that are alleged to have been negligent, provided the Good Samaritan was acting in good faith.
In ACT, NSW, Tasmania and Victoria, a Good Samaritan is someone who provides assistance to a person who is, ‘at risk of being injured’ [ACT and NSW] or ‘apparently at risk of death or injury’ [Tasmania and Victoria].
In the NT and SA, emergency assistance means ‘emergency medical assistance’ or ‘any other form of assistance to a person whose life or safety is endangered in a situation of emergency’.
‘The WA legislation provides protection for a person ‘at the scene of an emergency’ who ‘assists a person in apparent need of emergency assistance’.
Note that all these definitions relate to medical assistance, not to vehicle recovery. It seems clear that if you do what you think is the right thing in aiding someone who’s injured, or threatened with injury, you’ll be protected from legal action.
However, if you are affected by drugs or alcohol, that immunity may not apply.
Significantly, there is no legislation that protects you from legal action should you undertake vehicle recovery that goes wrong.
Aiding in vehicle recovery
Because of our military vehicle training and considerable off-road driving and recovery experience, the team at OTA was once asked to produce a manual for a prominent government utility. The manual was to be a guide for vehicle and equipment operators, who might come across remote-area standings and need to extract stuck vehicles.
Obviously, the manual was intended to take vehicle and equipment operators through a step-by-step process, to ensure safety and minimise vehicle damage. However, the further we went along the risk assessment and correct procedure path, the more obvious it became that no such manual could ever be created, without our incurring significant legal liability.
We soon saw that it would be impossible to write up a risk assessment covering the possible outcomes of extracting a 4WD that was stuck on a slippery side slope, above a precipitous gorge, using a similar vehicle to recover it. Based on many years’ experience, we knew what we would do in such a situation, but how could we transfer that knowledge and scene visualisation into a recovery manual?
If someone acted on our description of the risk assessment and recovery procedure, obeying the detailed instructions, and then someone died or was seriously injured, where would we stand legally?
Our net assessment for the government department was that in all cases of vehicle or equipment standings a specially trained team, driving specifically designed and equipped recovery vehicle – a combined tow, winch, tilt-tray and crane 4WD truck – was the only safe and legally protected way of extracting the stuck vehicle.
The procedures we’re all familiar with and which are covered in our 4WD Recovery section, can incur legal liability. If a self-recovery procedure went wrong, you wouldn’t sue yourself for negligence, obviously, but it’s possible someone you help could sue you!
What could go wrong
Some of Russell Coight’s best-loved ‘recovery’ episodes involve his own ‘roo bar getting ripped off, or his vehicle tearing the front off a bogged car. They’re hysterical, because no-one got hurt. In contrast, there are many recorded instances of people being seriously injured or killed during improperly carried out recoveries.
If you arrive at a bogging or a breakdown, you need to do your own risk assessment, before committing to any action.
Here’s an example from our bush-travelling experience. We were part of a 4WD convoy and came across a bunch of young blokes, who’d managed to let one of their vehicles roll backwards off a creek embankment. They asked if we could give them a hand.
We reckoned we could winch the hiLux back up the slope, using its own winch, hooked to two of ours. We also thought it would be necessary to use a hand winch, to ‘belay’ it against rolling sideways as it was pulled up the steep slope.
While we were setting up, their apparent leader, who’d been absent, turned up and suggested that we didn’t know what we were doing. (He had long-neck-beer-bottle paper VB labels stuck on his arms and looked a bit on the ‘pissed’ side.)
A few glances between us was all that was required. We packed up and left them to it. Why would we waste our time and risk abuse if something went awry, for this mob?
The above instance had an easy resolution, but it’s more difficult when the stranded driver is embarrassed and grateful for any help. It’s very easy then to get in over your head.
One of our great OTA Supporters was on a remote WA beach, when he came across a bogged bus. Yep, a road-going, rear wheel drive Scania bus, not a 4WD tour vehicle. Apparently, it was a regular thing, to drive on the rock-hard sand and the bus hadn’t been bogged before.
The enquiry was: could our mate, in his Daily 4×4 Earthcruiser, give it a tug out of the small soft patch it was sitting in?
If it had been me, I’d have pointed out towing a 16-tonne bus was way above my LandCruiser’s pay grade and offered to use my satphone to get it a tow truck. However, our mate is a much nicer person and he gave the bus a short pull, using his heavy-duty tow strap. It worked in getting the bus back onto the hard stuff and everyone aboard the bus was happy.
Our mate was also happy for the next few weeks of on-road travel, but when he went seriously off-road in steep dune country the clutch gave up the ghost. A very, very expensive fly-in bush repair was needed.
Another common situation is being asked to tow a stranded vehicle out of the scrub, to a more-travelled road. Sometimes that’s an easy task and other times it can result in disaster.
Old-fashioned 4WDs can be towed without risk of transmission damage, but the handbook in the stranded vehicle will soon tell you how that vehicle needs to be towed safely.
The problem is that modern transmissions need the engine running, to lubricate the transmission.
Nine times out of 10 that means a tilt-tray truck, because modern 4WD transmissions can be fatally damaged if the vehicle is towed with the wheels rotating.
Another towing problem is that with the engine not running the power steering and brake systems won’t work, so steering and slowing the towed vehicle are problematic.
The last thing you need is old mate’s towed vehicle smashing into the back of yours.
As Calvera said: “Sooner or later you pay for every good deed!”