This is high season for travel on the nation’s highways, as well as for road work, so it would have been a fine time for emergency responders to focus on staying safe, even if they didn’t have a specific accomplishment to celebrate.
But they did. Local officers and officials who patrol the D.C. region’s roads gathered at the U.S. Department of Transportation on Wednesday to mark a milestone: 200,000 responders nationwide have gone through a federal program called “Traffic Incident Management” to strengthen their ability to protect themselves and others during a roadway disruption.
David Kim, deputy highway administrator at the Department of Transportation, said that all too often a relatively minor crash becomes a tragedy when a distracted, confused or inattentive motorist comes upon the scene and strikes one of the emergency responders. A key goal of the extra training is to share knowledge about how to better protect the people involved in the crash and the responders during a crash investigation and cleanup.
The responders, for example, learn about the dangers of staying so focused on their tasks that they tune out the rest of the environment, which may include fast moving cars and trucks in the still-open lanes. (Drivers often ask me about the nationwide spread of “Move Over” laws, mandating that motorists either move away from emergency responders or, if that’s not safe, at least slow down. This is a key reason those laws came into being. Responders focused on helping others didn’t see danger approaching till too late. About a hundred responders die each year after being struck by motorists.)
But Kim also told me that the program benefits the motorists who just happen to be passing by the scene of an incident. Of course, training that helps responders to more quickly clear the damaged vehicles helps everyone. How many lanes do they need to close initially for safety? What can they do to improve the crash cleanup time and get the rest of the lanes open again?
You may hear Bob Marbourg talking about this aspect during his afternoon traffic reports on WTOP radio. He gets as frustrated as the drivers do when rush hour delays are magnified by an extra long cleanup after a crash. For years, I’ve heard regional transportation officials proclaim the value of road safety patrols and good coordination with tow trucks in getting broken down vehicles out of travel lanes and clearing crash sites.
However, it’s more than a matter of saving time for those passersby. The injuries and deaths at a crash site many not come in the initial crash. The more serious injuries may come at the end of a stalled line of traffic, where a distracted or confused driver fails to slow in time after seeing the brake lights up ahead.
Michael Fergus, an executive with the International Association of Chiefs of Police, set a training goal for all of us drivers. “Every one using the road is a traffic incident manager,” he said.
That’s a lesson to take on the road with you this summer. Stay safe and stay alert.