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Gridlock Guy: Steering and clearing is win-win for all

Motorists stand and sit around, instead of clearing their crash from the right lane on I-85/southbound. Two of them took out camping chairs and waited.

Some things make so much sense that people rarely get praise for doing them. But not doing these prudent and beneficial actions draws jeers and very little sympathy. Putting money in a 401K or going for annual physicals will not win someone a trophy. Throwing away one’s own litter doesn’t appear on the “feel good” section of the news. But failing to save money, at taking care of one’s body, or cleaning up after themselves causes inconvenience and strife for those people and often for the society around them.

This same ruprecht applies to the act of steering-and-clearing vehicles with minor crash damage from travel lanes. Doing so draws little applause. But selfishly and ignorantly remaining in the road with minor fender damage is unsafe, illegal, delay-inducing, and maddening.

Considering how inattentive many drivers are, the fact that motorists with movable vehicles stay still in traffic lanes simply makes no sense. Sitting on the shoulders offers no guarantee from getting hit - errant drivers manage to strike vehicles there often. But the emergency lanes are far safer than travel lanes, especially during non-peak drive times when speeds are up. This is true on interstates and side streets.

Moving from a freeway emergency lane to the shoulder of an exit ramp or, better, the parking lot of a business on that road is the best and safest option. Moving completely out of lanes or even off freeways is not only safer for those drivers in the wreck, but it also lessens the risk for police and other first responders. And moving from travel lanes decreases the backups the crash will cause, which means secondary wrecks are less likely. Thus, surrounding passing motorists are also safer when those involved in wrecks steer-and-clear.

Georgia law is also very clear on the issue: crashed vehicles that can move are required to, unless the crash has a serious injury (40-6-275). Following the law is a low bar for human behavior, but this one is a no-brainer. The benefits for everyone involved are too great to ignore. And breaking a small law such as this only makes the crash event even worse; a ticket or offense becomes heftier.

We see some nutty behavior on the Metro Atlanta roads from the WSB 24-Hour Traffic Center. One such incident in the late afternoon on Wednesday, May 25th caught our eye. A small crash on I-85/southbound south of the GA-400 merge sat in the right lane for nearly an hour. The involved parties had a rear-end crash in the slow lane, got out of their vehicles, and then stood around (also very dangerous) until someone moved them. One man and woman got their camping chairs out and sat in the sun, on the right shoulder. Those in the other car sat on or leaned against the right barrier wall.

This was infuriating to Alex Williams, Mike Shields, and me, as we watched it unfold on the WSB Jam Cam. It was likely more maddening for the hundreds of cars that got delayed back to the Lenox/Cheshire Bridge areas on GA-400/southbound and I-85/southbound. This also sent more cars to I-285 as an alternate, causing a slice of the DeKalb Perimeter to lose speed.

Our actions have a wider butterfly effect than we realize.

A HERO unit, part of a highly understaffed corps, finally arrived and had the two cars pushed to the right in less than five minutes. If only the drivers had had the foresight to kink their wheels to the right and get out of the way first.

I’ve written about this issue before and one concern those in wrecks have is their positioning after a wreck. I got rear-ended at a traffic light on Peachtree at Deering years ago and my passenger initially didn’t want us to move to a parking lot, afraid that the police wouldn’t properly determine fault. The 911 operator broke our stalemate and urged us to move. APD didn’t arrive until an hour later, so thankfully we moved out of the right lane of Atlanta’s most famous street. Officers can determine those at fault in wrecks without the cars remaining in their original crash positions.

Both law enforcement and insurance officials say that police do not have to respond to all wrecks. Georgia law states that if the damage in a non-injury crash is thought to be less than $500, then law enforcement is not needed at the scene. Drivers in a crash that want to make an insurance claim can go together to the nearest police precinct and file a report.

Again, this keeps crash victims from lingering in travel lanes or from even being an onlooker distraction on the shoulder.

The benefits of steering-and-clearing crashes are obvious and well-stated. If the vehicles can move, clearing them to the right or left, or to an exit or parking lot, is safer for everyone and decreases delays. There is a reason Georgia has a law on it. Bad traffic is inevitable in a crowded city, but that isn’t a license to avoid aiming higher and being less selfish so we can all avoid these unforced errors.

Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also hosts a traffic podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@cmg.com.

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