Gridlock Guy: Steering and clearing and when not to call police

If one commutes enough in Atlanta, they’re sure to get in a crash — I’ve been in my share. The feeling of confidence and safety behind the wheel completely vanishes when bumpers connect. Suddenly, involved parties are standing on the side of the road, eyeing damage, dialing phones, waiting, and running late. Happy Monday! Drivers in wrecks, however, can take some steps to improve the commute around them, shorten their wait times, make themselves safer, and ensure they satisfy their insurers.

First, Georgia law 40-6-275 explicitly states that any drivers in a wreck on a public road must, “… 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…”. Big exceptions to this include injuries to the licensed driver of the car (though another licensed driver is permitted to safely move it) or if the vehicle is incapacitated. The “Steer and Clear” law is often ignored, but it’s vital. The WSB Traffic Team and I see many minor wrecks stay in travel lanes for far too long, causing big jams on interstates and side roads. Drivers that violate “Steer and Clear” can get a ticket. People do not need to wait for first responders’ arrival to try and move their cars.

When calling the police about a wreck, be very explicit about the exact location and the types of vehicles involved. Almost every driver has a smartphone and a mapping app to find their location (might I suggest the WSB Triple Team Traffic Alerts App?). If you’re stuck in travel lanes or another dangerous spot, call the GDOT HERO Units at 511. If police and/or HEROs don’t respond quickly, keep calling. HERO trucks (or the new GDOT CHAMP vehicles in some outlying areas) heighten their response times when traffic is interrupted. And stay in the vehicle — do not get out to take pictures or make calls, until having moved safely out of the road. Also, turn on the hazard lights, to warn passing motorists of the problem.

Law enforcement sometimes struggles in responding to non-injury fender-benders, especially those that are not blocking lanes. Crashes right on county or city lines can cause jurisdictional squabbles. Georgia State Patrol handles some agencies’ interstate wrecks, such as Atlanta, Cobb, and Gwinnett — but they often do not on weekends and nights. Add in personnel shortages, and response times can really disappoint sometimes. So know that calling the police is not always imperative in a wreck. State law 40-6-273 does say to call the police immediately when, “… in an accident resulting in injury to or death of any person or property damage to an apparent extent of $500.00 or more …”. If the wreck is more minor than that, law enforcement sources tell the AJC that drivers only must exchange license, insurance, and tag info. This is particularly true if drivers are not trying to claim any piece of the wreck on their insurance.

If drivers want to claim a wreck on their insurance, AAA, which helps provide auto, life, and home insurance, has some advice. If those in the crash do not request the police at the scene, the parties should go together to the police department.

“This helps the insurance company with its investigation and helps determine who is not at fault in the loss,” AAA spokesman Garrett Townsend told the AJC. Drivers can help their own cause by taking pictures at the crash scene. AAA’s policy is to request a police report for a wreck, but customers should submit their own on a claim, if they have one. Every driver should know what their insurance company requires, so they know how to handle crashes.

Drivers knowing and following Georgia law will help traffic move better and keep them safer. Contacting 511 for wrecks on interstates and major highways clears lanes faster. Knowing the law and their respective insurance company’s rules will make the claim process easier. Put these things into practice and crash scenes become safer and less of a hassle than they normally are.