Atlanta commuters, we have a problem. Besides our normal issues of mass congestion, distracted driving, and inadequate public transit, something recently jumped out as an issue we need to address now. Driving in emergency lanes during a road closure absolutely must stop.
On April 5, 10 vehicles, including a couple of tractor trailers, collided on Interstate 285/westbound (Inner Loop) at Bouldercrest Road. The strewn out crash blocked all through lanes of the interstate, as rescue crews scrambled to assemble at the scene. The WSB Traffic Team issued a “RED ALERT” as we always do when an interstate is completely blocked for an extended period. It stayed blocked much longer than it should have.
As we watched the crash on the WSB Jam Cam, we could hear the DeKalb County units on the police and fire scanners scrambling to get to the scene. They had problems getting there because people stuck in the closure started trying to use the emergency lanes. A source familiar with the debacle told me that a HERO did not arrive at this crash for 37 minutes.
The blocking of the emergency lanes was so bad that DeKalb Fire Captain Eric Jackson asked WSB news reporters to include the problem in the breaking stories we were doing. DeKalb officials deployed extra officers to block off I-285/southbound and force traffic there onto Interstate 20, to alleviate the pressure of the backup getting to the scene.
One of the biggest crashes so far in 2016 ended up injuring two children and four adults. And people illegally driving in the emergency lanes stymied some of the first responders the injured needed. In a worse crash, that delay in arrival could have been the difference between life and death.
Two factors exacerbate this problem. One is our ever-increasing impatience. The pace on our roads, despite being oft-gridlocked, is frenzied and our driving reflects that. People can’t stand being even a little bit delayed, much less severely by a traffic “RED ALERT.” That pushes drivers to do some desperate, dangerous, and ignorant things. Driving on the shoulders is one example.
Another problem is one of conditioning. In an effort to wisely move traffic faster, GDOT has allowed traffic to use the right shoulder as an extra “flex lane” on parts of Interstate 85/northbound in Gwinnett and GA-400/northbound/southbound in Fulton during rush hours. This may lead some to think driving in these lanes is less taboo and prompt them to do so in other places. That is no excuse.
We are coming off of National Work Zone Awareness Week and National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week. The first of those is set to promote careful and undistracted driving in construction zones and around first responders. The latter is to thank the many 911 dispatchers who send police, fire, and EMS to emergencies all over. The jobs of all involved would be much easier if motorists cooperated around flashing lights.
So, please, leave emergency lanes open. If they had not been blocked on I-285 two weeks ago, the road would have opened faster and injured taken to the hospital sooner. Let us all be good citizens.
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Mark Arum is off this week. Doug Turnbull is the PM drive airborne anchor for Triple Team Traffic on News 95-5 FM and AM-750 WSB and writes how own traffic blog on wsbradio.com.