Videographer Lance Wheeler is getting heat from some quarters for releasing a video of Hudson firefighters “sledding”—being dragged by a rope—behind vehicles on Warren Street during the recent blizzard.
Some comments on Facebook and on CBS6’s website blast Wheeler for posting the video, as if it were intended to make the firefighters look bad. “Butt out and mind yer own,” writes one Canojoharie commenter. “What the hell was Lance thinking by submitting this?” writes another. Others say that the firefighters’ well-appreciated sacrifices on our behalf entitles them to a little fun.
Such attack on Wheeler makes little sense for at least four reasons:
- Wheeler’s track record of covering emergencies locally has earned him a solid reputation among first responders, making it obvious he meant them no disrespect;
- If there is nothing wrong with sledding behind a vehicle, then there should not be anything wrong about publishing it;
- The first portion of the video makes it obvious that Wheeler did not run out to play “gotcha” with the firefighters, but rather stumbled upon the scene while shooting routine footage (what people in the biz call B-roll) of the storm, and found it funny;
- And, since the footage was at minimum entertaining and potentially newsworthy, it’s not a reporter’s job to suppress news just because some might not like it.
The real reason for the hostile and defensive reactions is, in all likelihood, a simple one: because it is plainly illegal. Section §1233 of the New York State Vehicle And Traffic (VAT) laws reads as follows:
Clinging to vehicles
- No person riding upon any bicycle,coaster, in-line skates, roller skates, skate board, sled, or toy vehicle shall attach the same or himself or herself to any vehicle being operated upon a roadway.
- No person shall ride on or attach himself to the outside of any vehicle being operated upon a roadway.
The provisions of this section shall not apply to: (i) vehicles in an emergency operation as defined in section one hundred fourteen-b of this chapter; and (ii) farm type tractors used exclusively for agricultural purposes or other farm equipment; and (iii) riding on the open, uncovered cargo area of a truck with the permission of the operator of such truck; and (iv) vehicles employed by a municipality for local garbage collection; and (v) vehicles participating in a parade pursuant to a municipal permit.
- No vehicle operator shall knowingly permit any person to attach any device or himself to such operator's vehicle in violation of subdivision one or subdivision two of this section.
So why is clinging to vehicles illegal? Because even when it’s all in good fun, it can be really dangerous. As another commenter at CBS6 writes,
We had a kid years ago that thought it was fun to be pulled behind a truck on a tire on a state highway. He died that same night because the tire swung out around the truck into the path a an oncoming car. That oncoming vehicle belonged to a dear friend that had no chance of avoiding the teenager. An image that is never forgotten in a life time. This too was a snow storm. It may seem like fun, but fun can easily turn into tragedy.