We have been reminded this past week about what rain can do to a commute. Several rush hours last week were absolutely horrible, even absent of the many crashes on the wet pavement. The last thing Atlanta traffic needs is unforced errors, and one major pet peeve in that category is when people get in minor crashes and keep their vehicles in the roadway. I saw the yin and the yang of this concept on the Atlanta roads last Tuesday.
Georgia lawmakers addressed the issue, updating the “Steer It and Clear It” code most recently in 2010:
“When a motor vehicle traffic accident occurs with no apparent serious personal injury or death, it shall be the duty of the drivers of the motor vehicles involved in such traffic accident, or any other occupant of any such motor vehicle who possesses a valid driver’s license, to remove said vehicles from the immediate confines of the roadway into a safe refuge on the shoulder, emergency lane, or median or to a place otherwise removed from the roadway whenever such moving of a vehicle can be done safely and the vehicle is capable of being normally and safely driven, does not require towing, and can be operated under its own power in its customary manner without further damage or hazard to itself, to the traffic elements, or to the roadway. The driver of any such motor vehicle may request any person who possesses a valid driver’s license to remove any such motor vehicle as provided in this Code section, and any such person so requested shall be authorized to comply with such request,” O.C.G.A. 40-6-275-c says.
And if you worry about how this affects their fault in the crash, the law addresses that also. “The driver or any other person who has removed a motor vehicle from the main traveled way of the road as provided in subsection (c) of this Code section before the arrival of a police officer shall not be considered liable or at fault regarding the cause of the accident solely by reason of moving the vehicle pursuant to this Code section.”
This is all the formal way to say this: The State of Georgia mandates that people in wrecks who can safely move their vehicles out of travel lanes do so. The State even encourages people to exit off of freeways safely and won’t penalize drivers for doing this before officers arrive.
Of course, this efficient and considerate behavior isn’t always possible. Many vehicles are too damaged to move without assistance. When that is the case, people should wait inside their vehicles, however. Stepping out is awfully dangerous.
Last Tuesday afternoon, the WSB Skycopter crew and I spotted a small wreck in the left lane of I-285/southbound (Outer Loop) near South Cobb Drive. I began telling the WSB 24-Hour Traffic Center about this and was very close to plotting the incident on the WSB Triple Team Traffic Alerts App. I thought this crash would be there for at least a few minutes, as the motorists had exited their vehicles. But just as we passed over it, the drivers hopped in their cars and left the scene.
At first glance, this seemed like a good thing. They effectively steered and cleared their crash (though, technically, they should have reported the collision to authorities). But, they got out of their vehicles while still in a travel lane. This not only was dangerous, but they also held other people up. They could have steered their minimally damaged vehicles onto the shoulders and then decided to leave. They get a C-minus for their efforts.
There are several reasons that people could be reluctant to move minor wrecks. First, moving across oncoming traffic to a shoulder is scary and difficult. But doing this in bad traffic is easier, since that traffic is moving slower.
Another reason people could be reluctant to clear crashes is if they can move their car, but someone else in the crash cannot. If a car can move on its own, it should. Maybe they just shouldn’t move off onto an exit, so they can stay in proximity to the rest of the crash scene.
Steering and clearing minor crashes from travel lanes isn’t just a friendly suggestion. Doing so is absolutely the law. And law enforcement should do a far better job in making sure people obey it. The last thing Atlanta needs is 25% of a four-lane interstate shut down by two people too lazy, paranoid, or scared to move. This is one reason why emergency lanes exist. Let’s start using them more for clearing crashes — not passing them.
Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also writes a traffic blog and hosts a podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@coxmg.com .