Emergency Transportation Operations
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Quick Clearance

Quick clearance of all traffic incidents, large and small, is important not only for reducing traffic congestion and improving mobility on the highway network, but also for improving safety for travelers and incident responders. Minor incidents, even those on the roadway shoulder, can become major incidents. Lengthy clearance times increase the exposure of travelers and responders to secondary crashes. A secondary crash can be much more serious that a minor primary incident.

Incidents involving larger vehicles carrying a wide variety of freight types have the potential for closing roadways for extended periods of time. Many transportation and law enforcement officials are reluctant to take aggressive action by pushing or dragging heavy damaged vehicles and cargoes off the road for fear of liability. Experience has shown, however, that agencies that take aggressive actions do not incur increased liability, especially if aggressive clearance in the name of public safety is a stated policy and if the clearance is done in a manner that is not reckless or negligent.

About half of the states have laws that require drivers involved in minor property damage crashes (no injuries) to moves their vehicles, if they can be driven, to a safe location out of traffic lanes. These laws, generally called "Move It", or "Steer It, Clear It" laws, are very helpful not only in quickly opening traffic lanes, but also increasing the safety of motorists who are often tempted to get out of their vehicles to talk to each other, inspect damage and exchange insurance information.

Quick clearance policies can also include immediate tow-away policies, especially in proximity to metropolitan areas, to ensure the timely removal of disabled vehicles from roadway shoulders. This reduces the potential for moving traffic colliding with parked vehicles. While removal of the vehicles is typically at the expense of the owners, increasingly many of these vehicles are derelicts, abandoned by their owners. Once towed, these abandoned vehicles can become a financial burden to tow companies who have to store, and then scrap them. Working with the towing and recovery companies on development of traffic incident management policies helps mitigate these financial impacts.


NCHRP Synthesis 318 - Safe and Quick Clearance of Traffic Incidents (PDF, 8.6MB)

This report is based on a survey of traffic incident clearance policies, procedures, laws and ordinances from all 50 states and also contains information on "hold harmless" laws and policies and laws regarding the removal of incident victims from a crash site. The synthesis covers not only the clearance of major incidents, including the removal of tractor-trailers and the handling of fuel spills, but also the quick clearance of minor crashes typically covered by "Move It" or "Steer It, Clear It" laws.

I-95 Corridor Coalition - Quick Clearance (HTML)

Service Patrol Handbook (HTML, PDF 5.1MB) (Publication Number: FHWA-HOP-08-031, July 2008)

This Handbook provides an overview of the Full-Function Service Patrol (FFSP) and describes desired program characteristics from the viewpoint of an agency that is responsible for funding, managing, and operating the services. Presented guidelines and rules of thumb illustrate operational characteristics, sponsorship, level of service, number of vehicles needed, vehicle types and equipment, patrol frequency, operator and manager training, and services provided. The primary audience for the Handbook comprises State department of transportation (DOT) decision-makers, managers, operators, and practitioners who are responsible for, or are considering, implementing an FFSP program as part of a strategy to reduce congestion.

Traffic Incident Management Quick Clearance Laws: A National Review of Best Practices (HTML, PDF 2MB) (Publication Number: FHWA-HOP-09-005, December 2008)

This report includes: (1) a description of the role and relevance of Quick Clearance Laws in the broader traffic incident management context; (2) a detailed review of the purpose and intent, model language, observed content trends and anomalies, and implementation challenges and resolutions for Move Over, Driver Removal, and Authority Removal laws including specific examples from State legislation; and (3) concluding remarks and proposed strategies for implementation, including beneficial synergy resulting from combined Quick Clearance Law implementation.

Additional Publications

For a listing of additional Traffic Incident Management publications, please visit the Office Of Operations' Publications Web page.

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