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Traffic Incident Management Quick Clearance Laws:
A National Review of Best Practices

Driver Removal Laws

At the time of this investigation, approximately half of all U.S. States possess Driver Removal laws that require drivers involved in typically minor incidents to move the vehicles from the travel lanes, exchange information, and report the crash information as required. Fewer States actively publicize or enforce these laws, limiting their overall potential for effectiveness. Driver Removal laws consistently promote the minimal obstruction of traffic but vary significantly in the specific provisions defining where, when, and under what conditions these laws apply.

A review of the purpose and intent, model language, observed content trends and anomalies, and implementation challenges and resolutions for Driver Removal laws is provided below. As appropriate, excerpts from model law and State Driver Removal legislation are included. Legal citations are included for further follow-up by the reader.

Purpose and Intent

Driver Removal laws aim to expedite removal of damaged or disabled vehicles from the travel lanes to enhance the overall level of safety on the roadway and reduce associated congestion and delay. Drivers remaining in a travel lane put themselves, as well as approaching motorists, at risk. When responders arrive on-scene, they too are at a greater risk in the travel lane; particularly when outside their vehicles because of the threat of being struck by a passing vehicle.

Driver Removal laws also serve to reduce the burden on law enforcement and other first responders. As the levels of congestion build on U.S. roadways, transportation and law enforcement personnel encounter resource challenges and constraints. They must meet increasing traffic incident management demands, in the context of their other duties and responsibilities. Public agencies are challenged to function with ever-increasing constraints on personnel and resources. Driver Removal laws – that require drivers to take response action - not only enhances the safety of those involved and of approaching motorists, but also allows transportation and law enforcement personnel to focus on other duties.

Because of the reliance on the motoring public for effectiveness, Driver Removal laws are often accompanied by public information campaigns (i.e., public safety announcements, roadside billboards, etc.) and roadside signing that reminds drivers of their responsibilities under the law. Requirements for such activities are seldom included in legislation, however. Select States include related legislation designed to protect drivers against liability resulting from their actions and encourage their cooperation in removing vehicles from the roadway.

South Carolina's Driver Removal law reduced delay by 11 percent, with an associated cost savings of $1,682 per incident.

The benefits resulting from Driver Removal laws could be significant. As reported previously, Hamlin, et al. (2007) attributed an 11 percent reduction in incident-related delay to South Carolina's Driver Removal law, with an associated per incident cost savings of $1,682, which is significant when considering the number of minor incidents occurring on a daily basis in large metropolitan areas. NHTSA estimates that approximately 66 percent of all police-reported highway crashes are minor incidents and that approximately half of all motor vehicle crashes in the United States go unreported. These unreported crashes are likely minor in nature, involving property damage only. Hamlin, et al. (2007) cited Driver Removal law benefits related to the safety of road users and incident response personnel in addition to diminishing the role of accidents on congestion and its associated impacts.

Model Language

As part of the aforementioned Incident Responders' Safety Model Law, model Driver Removal law language is included in Section 8 with the intent of defining driver-specific actions that should be taken to minimize the potential for hazard:

Section 8. Avoidance of Lane Blockage -- Expedited Removal of Vehicles
  1. No person shall stop or park a vehicle in such manner as to impede or render dangerous the use of the roadway by others, except to avoid collision, at the direction of an authorized official, or in the case of a crash or mechanical breakdown.
  2. In the event of a crash or mechanical breakdown, the emergency flashing lights of such vehicle shall be activated if the vehicle is equipped with such lights and lights are in working order.
  3. If a vehicle stopped in the roadway is movable and its driver is capable of moving it, the driver shall immediately move the vehicle to the shoulder or to a designated area off the highway. A responder to an incident may move a vehicle remaining on the roadway, or require the driver or other person in charge of the vehicle to move it to the shoulder or a designated area off the highway.

Content Trends and Anomalies

Common to nearly all of the Driver Removal laws enacted in each State is the general requirement to minimize traffic obstruction – "every such stop shall be made without obstructing traffic more than is necessary" – demonstrating a significant reliance on the Uniform Vehicle Code when drafting the original legislation. Despite this commonality, specific provisions defined in each law vary significantly between States. Distinctive provisions contained in Driver Removal laws relate to:

Specific examples of commonalities and differences in provisions are provided below. Note that the examples reflect a subset of existing Driver Removal laws. Much of the statutory language is consistent among States. Where differences do exist, individual examples are included to reflect a broader set of State laws. In the interest of brevity, few State laws are included in their entirety; language not directly related to Quick Clearance operations is excluded. However, State statute citations are provided if the reader is interested in further researching a cited law.

Applicable Roadway Facility and Affected Feature

Driver Removal laws typically are limited to incidents occurring on high-speed, limited access roadways that affect the mainline, median, and ramp areas. Some States have expanded applicability to include shoulders and adjacent areas while others have limited applicability to include only metropolitan areas. Consider the following examples.

State Driver Removal laws are typically limited to:

State Driver Removal laws may apply to incidents that occur on the:

Driver Removal laws that apply to damaged or disabled vehicles on shoulders and adjacent areas offer greater potential safety benefits than those limited to vehicles on the mainline, median, and ramp areas. Vehicles on the shoulder still pose a significant safety risk for responders, involved motorists, and approaching motorists. Moreover, studies indicate that they reduce roadway capacity although no physical blockage of a travel lane is occurring.

Driver Removal laws applicable to metropolitan areas only also limit the potential for safety benefit. Rural travel is characterized by lower traffic densities, higher travel speeds, and longer travel distances. When an incident occurs in a rural area, incident responders generally take longer to reach the scene. In addition, approaching motorists are traveling at high speeds and receive no congestion-related early warning of a downstream incident. Both conditions lead to increased risk for secondary incidents that may be more severe than those occurring in metropolitan areas. Statewide consistency also simplifies driver understanding and enforcement.

Applicable Incident Types

Driver Removal law provisions commonly are limited to incidents involving property damage only or minor injury– incidents involving serious injury or fatality are typically, but not always, excluded from Driver Removal law provisions. Some States also exclude incidents that involve hazardous materials. Select States also require that the vehicle is physically moved in a safe manner and under its own power without being towed (i.e., disabled vehicles are excluded from Driver Removal law provisions). Consider the following examples.

State Driver Removal laws apply if:

These examples indicate two distinct schools of thought regarding driver removal duties in the context of incident severity. Select States limit the removal of involved vehicles if serious physical injury or death is apparent, suggesting concern for the condition of incident victims (i.e., moving the victims may result in more severe injuries) and recognition of the need for more extensive and careful investigation by law enforcement officers. The Driver Removal law in Florida contains no such limitation; allowing for the removal of involved vehicles even if a fatality has occurred in an effort to prevent further injury or death resulting from secondary incidents.

Removal Authority

Distinct from Authority Removal laws that are described later in this report- Driver Removal laws often specify who has the authority to remove incident-involved vehicles. Typically, removal authority is limited to the driver or a licensed occupant of the involved vehicle but in some instances, removal authority includes any licensed driver at the scene. Consider the following examples.

State Driver Removal laws require that the vehicle be moved by:

If the driver is unable to move the vehicle alone, he or she must:

The driver may be sufficiently unnerved or occupied with other involved parties (i.e., exchanging contact and insurance information) to prevent the expedited removal of obstructing vehicles. Under such circumstances, provisions allowing any licensed driver to move the vehicle to a safe refuge are beneficial.

Removal Location

Select Driver Removal laws include provisions for removal location. Typical locations include a median, frontage road, cross street, mainline or ramp shoulder, or crash investigation site. Consider the following examples.

State Driver Removal laws require vehicles to be moved:

Obviously, recommended locations more removed from the travel lanes provide a greater level of safety for involved and approaching motorists and responders. Some States however, have included provisions in their Driver Removal laws that limit the distance that incident-involved vehicles can be moved from the original site of the incident.

Crash Investigation

Select Driver Removal legislation in various States includes provisions requiring that drivers and/or law enforcement personnel provide proper crash reporting documentation and conduct necessary crash investigation procedures irrespective of vehicle location. Consider the following examples.

State Driver Removal laws shall not:

The extent of Driver Removal law impacts on law enforcement crash investigation duties is thought to be minimal. Driver Removal law provisions typically apply to minor incidents that would not require or receive investigation by law enforcement. In many instances, law enforcement may not even be on-scene. For those incidents that do require investigation, a Driver Removal law does not relieve law enforcement of the requirement to investigate an incident. The mandate to move a vehicle under these laws is not necessarily contradictory to the law enforcement's duty to conduct a comprehensive investigation. Numerous examples exist within State laws where the need to perform one action must be weighed against the totality of the duty to provide for public safety. For example, it is important to capture an offender and prevent further societal harm but not if the act of pursuit places the general public in more harm than that of allowing the offender to go free. Similarly, it may be important to investigate a minor accident such as generally indicated by the law, but not if the resulting congestion and potential for more serious secondary crashes outweighs the potential results of the initial investigation.

Hold Harmless Clause

Concurrent legislation or language that protects the driver from liability resulting from their actions (in the absence of gross negligence) or waives at-fault determination regarding the cause of the incident as a result of moving their vehicle is often included with Driver Removal laws to encourage drivers to expeditiously move their vehicles. Consider the following examples.

Under State Driver Removal laws:

Most drivers are reluctant to move their vehicle following a minor incident. They assume or were taught that the involved vehicles must be in their original location for law enforcement officers to properly assess responsibility and for insurance companies to offer damage reimbursement. The protection offered under select Driver Removal laws is only effective if drivers are aware of the provisions. As such, public awareness campaigns become extremely important to changing driver behavior.

Implementation Challenges and Resolutions

Noted implementation challenges or shortcomings when introducing and enacting Driver Removal laws include the following:

Each of these challenges or shortcomings is described below, with potential associated strategies for response.

Application May Be Limited to Metropolitan Areas

In some instances, Driver Removal laws may be limited to metropolitan areas where they are implemented with the intent reducing incident-related congestion and delay. Potential safety benefits attributable to Driver Removal laws – namely the reduced likelihood of secondary incidents involving responders and/or approaching motorists - suggest an equal or potentially greater benefit in non-urban, rural areas. Lower traffic densities, higher travel speeds, and longer travel distances characterize rural travel. When an incident occurs in a rural area, incident responders generally take longer to reach the scene. In addition, approaching motorists often travel at high speeds and receive no congestion-related early warning of a downstream incident. Both conditions lead to increased risk for secondary incidents that may be more severe than those occurring in metropolitan areas.

Response

A legislative history review of Texas §550.022 revealed no explanation for the metropolitan area limitation; the language remains unchanged from its original form first introduced as SB 971 in 1995. During that time, TIM efforts and benefits focused almost exclusively on congestion reduction; safety-related benefits attributable to TIM emerged more recently. This historic focus on congestion and delay reduction may help to explain the attendant focus on metropolitan areas.

To prevent the same legislative shortcoming, State Driver Removal laws that exclude the limiting language should be considered as "model legislation." These States include Arizona, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Maryland, and Tennessee. Enforcement-related benefits resulting from statewide consistency can be presented as the basis for introducing inclusive original or expanding current legislation. Statewide consistency also simplifies driver understanding of vehicle removal requirements. Demonstrated, united support from law enforcement and transportation agencies can significantly assist in advancing legislation.

Vehicles on the Shoulder Are Not Considered a Hazard

Affecting both removal initiation and removal location, Driver Removal laws often exclude vehicles on the mainline shoulder under the purview of the law (i.e., vehicles on the shoulder are not authorized to be removed) and recommend the mainline shoulder as a "safe" removal location for incident-involved vehicles. Vehicles on the shoulder or median still pose a significant safety risk for responders, involved motorists, and approaching motorists. Studies demonstrate that they do reduce roadway capacity even though no physical blockage of a travel lane is occurring.

Response

State Driver Removal laws that include vehicles on the mainline shoulder or median (Washington) and recommend locations further removed from the travel lanes (Colorado, Texas, and Washington) should be considered as "model legislation." Driver Removal laws that require drivers to move their vehicle only as far as necessary to prevent obstructing the regular flow of traffic (South Carolina and Virginia) or specifically include the roadway shoulder or median as a recommended relocation site (Georgia, Maryland, Tennessee) are not recommended.

Safety-related statistics related to damaged, disabled, or abandoned vehicles on the shoulder or median can be presented as the basis for recommending further removed locations. For example, in 2005 North Carolina completed a five-year study of abandoned vehicle crash involvement found that a total of 1,300 abandoned vehicles were struck, resulting in 47 fatality crashes and over 500 injuries (I-95 Corridor Coalition 2007). In the same year but on a national level, an estimated 500 fatalities were reported by NHTSA resulting from multiple vehicle incidents occurring on the roadway shoulder and median, respectively (300 fatalities on the shoulder and 200 fatalities on the median). Perhaps more compelling than National or State-level statistics, and proven effective in proliferating Move Over laws, local examples of responder or motorist tragedy can be cited as a motivating factor in the successful development of Driver Removal legislation with provisions for off-site relocation.

Recent proposed revisions to existing State legislation confirm the merits of off-site relocation. Current legislation in Virginia (§46.2-888) requires drivers to "move the vehicle only so far as necessary to prevent obstructing the regular flow of traffic." Proposed revisions as part of Chapter 737 HB 1302, approved March 27, 2008, modify the existing legislation as follows:

Chapter 737 HB 1302. …If the driver is capable of safely doing so and the vehicle is movable, the driver may move the vehicle only so far as necessary from the roadway to prevent obstructing the regular flow of traffic…

Drivers May Be Reluctant to Move Vehicles

Most drivers are reluctant to move their vehicle following a minor incident. They assume that the involved vehicles must be in their original location for law enforcement officers to effectively investigate the crash and properly assess responsibility and for insurance companies to offer damage reimbursement. In fact, insurance companies offer compensation for damage repairs in crashes where vehicles have been moved before an officer arrives on the scene or even when information is simply exchanged between drivers and no police investigation is made.

Response

Because the effectiveness of Driver Removal laws is highly dependent upon appropriate driver action, State-mandated driver education initiatives and enforcement directives should be included as part of the legislation. No examples of "model legislation" were uncovered related specifically to Driver Removal laws but Florida §316.126.2(c) includes similar provisions in their Move Over law:

Florida §316.126. 2 (c) The Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles shall provide an educational awareness campaign informing the motoring public about the Move Over Act. The department shall provide information about the Move Over Act in all newly printed driver's license educational materials after July 1, 2002.

Driver Removal laws should include concurrent legislation or language that protects the driver from liability resulting from their actions (in the absence of gross negligence) or waives at-fault determination regarding the cause of the incident as a result of moving their vehicle. State Driver Removal laws that should be considered as "model legislation" include Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington. These protections offered to the driver should be an integral focus of any driver education or public awareness campaign.

Demonstrated, united support from the automobile insurance industry – to both develop and promote legislation and to facilitate subsequent driver education efforts - can significantly assist in advancing the legislation and enhancing the ability of enacted laws to enhance responder safety and realize additional associated benefits. Insurance companies stand to benefit from Driver Removal laws because of the reduced risk of secondary incidents. A preliminary awareness and education effort targeting the insurance industry may be required. Select large, national automobile insurance companies actively encourage drivers to "leave your vehicles where they are — even if they're blocking traffic" in the event of an injury incident. One reason cited for this is the need for law enforcement investigate the crash: "by leaving your vehicle where it is — even if it snags traffic — law enforcement officers can try to gauge what happened, as well as who might be at fault for the accident." With crash investigation as the basis for discouraging vehicle removal, law enforcement agencies become essential partners in promoting Quick Clearance within and among the automobile insurance industry.

Law Enforcement Personnel May Be Reluctant to Have Drivers Move Vehicles

Law enforcement personnel are required to conduct timely and accurate crash investigations as part of their overall responsibilities. Some law enforcement personnel may be reluctant to have drivers move their vehicles in the event of a crash, believing that it will compromise their ability to effectively investigate the crash and properly assess responsibility.

Response

Driver Removal law provisions typically apply to minor incidents that would not require or receive investigation by law enforcement. In many instances, law enforcement may not even be on-scene. As such, Driver Removal law impacts on law enforcement crash investigation duties are thought to be minimal.

When crash investigation is warranted, numerous examples exist within State laws where the need to perform one action must be weighed against the duty to provide for public safety. An example was presented previously that described the necessary balance between offender capture and public safety during the act of pursuit. As a second example, consider the authority of law enforcement to exceed regulatory speed limits when responding to a call and their concurrent duty to stop their vehicle at a red traffic signal light, proceeding only with caution and/or to stop their vehicle and remain stopped when approaching a stationary school bus. Similarly, it may be important to investigate a minor accident such as generally indicated by the law, but not if the resulting congestion and potential for more serious secondary crashes outweighs the potential results of the initial investigation.

In fact, law enforcement officers may conduct their investigations when a vehicle has been moved based, in part, on the crash damage "evidence" to the vehicles, debris at the point of the crash, and the testimony of drivers and witnesses. On many freeways, special crash investigation sites have been provided with roadside signs encouraging their use. These sites are usually nearby (but off the freeway), well lit for nighttime use and safety, and may have a telephone or call box to request assistance. Drivers must be informed about these sites and their use. State laws must also allow drivers to "leave the scene" to access these sites without being in violation of the law.

Law enforcement agencies are uniquely qualified to conduct crash investigations, and as such, are important partners in defining, developing, and enacting related legislation. Working with law enforcement agencies to demonstrate the potential benefits related to responder safety and, at the same time, working cooperatively to address their concerns related to crash investigation, will lead to a more successful and effective Driver Removal law and stronger relations between transportation and law enforcement agencies. Demonstrated, united support from law enforcement can significantly assist in advancing the legislation.

December 2008
FHWA-HOP-09-005

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