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Gridlock Guy: Impatience around crash scenes is dangerous and stupefying

Few actions in Atlanta traffic burn my pistons more than when hasty motorists stuck in backed-up traffic do ridiculous things to free themselves. But traffic does bring the worst out of even the best person in many cases, so making such maneuvers is somewhat relatable. But that doesn’t make this life-risking impatience excusable.

» RELATED: Gridlock Guy: Analyzing a string of crashes on I-285 near Flat Shoals in DeKalb

Last Tuesday, a nasty wreck on I-20/eastbound at Boulevard (exit 59), just east of the Downtown Connector, caused big delays and indeed caused some people to act foolishly. 

The crash had stayed in the three left lanes for quite a while, jamming I-20/eastbound back toward Lowery Boulevard and heavily delaying I-75/85 in both directions. As often happens with crashes on the left side of the road, rescue units had to block all lanes to move the wreckage to the right shoulder. Triple Team Traffic’s Alex Williams watched this all unfold on the WSB Jam Cam.

“HERO units had shut down I-20/eastbound at Boulevard to clear a crash out of the left lanes. The HERO driver had placed cones in the left lanes and across the right lanes to prevent traffic from proceeding through,” Williams explained. “[The HERO operator] was standing there using hand signals to divert traffic off of the exit.”

At this point, the HERO driver was directing traffic onto the Glenwood-Memorial Connector exit. “He then walked away to use his HERO truck to pull wrecked vehicles off to the right. As soon as he walked away, cars started driving around the cones he had placed out. As a result, a car came within inches of hitting a HERO truck that was dragging a wrecked car off to the side of the road.”

So some motorists literally saw they were not supposed to go, waited until the only thing stopping them moved out of the way to finish the job, and then dangerously proceeded to drive through the crash scene. The result was a near-miss in this case, fortunately, but that often is not the case.

Williams continued, “Other HERO units then had to walk back to the cones to stop traffic. It was a very dangerous situation that endangered the lives of first responders on the scene, because people wanted to be impatient and ignore the traffic diversion.”

Captain Herb Emory, the longtime leader of the WSB Traffic Team, would call people that did this “knuckleheads” on the air. But there are much stronger words we say to ourselves when we see people drive in emergency lanes, go around closures, and make u-turns in interstate medians. This behavior seems more acceptable as more people do it. People naturally use each other as “picks” and play the “Well, they did it” card, to justify their own behavior.

wrote two years ago about the absurdity of driving in emergency lanes. That particular instance illustrated why doing such a thing is not only selfish, but dangerous. The big clogs of cars in the emergency lanes kept responders from tending to the crash. Lives were at risk. And the irony, of course, was that these drivers’ moves to save themselves time only made the event last longer. So they inconvenienced themselves and everyone around them and they potentially kept injured people from getting instant medical care.

The perimeters that police, fire, ambulance, and HERO drivers place around wrecks sometimes seem excessive. But those wide swaths of cones and vehicles are meant to keep everyone at the scene — including surrounding motorists — safe. When people compromise those bubbles, trouble occurs.

The impatient, ill-advised, ignorant, and selfish motives of those I-20 motorists last Tuesday could have cost much more than a week of Gridlock Guy space. They could have run over debris and gotten flat tires. They could have hit the wrecked vehicles or HERO units (and almost did). These drivers could have delayed the application of medical attention and certainly did at least briefly delay the clearance of the crash scene. And any of this could have caused injuries or cost lives.

Saving a few precious minutes on a commute is not worth any of those risks. The only way this free society works is if we all advance with consideration and yield to each other properly. Yes, that got macro very quickly. But from the clouds to street level, patience and selflessness are both virtues. 

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

Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on News 95-5 FM and AM-750 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@coxinc.com.

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