The Authority to "Clear the Road" in Texas – In Action!

In Texas, the authority to remove personal property if it endangers the public has been put to the test with safe results.

In a Responder Safety e-newsletter article titled, “Drive It, Push It, Drag It or Tow It” (http://www.respondersafetyonline.com/500/enewsletters/Newsletter/78896/enewsletters), we introduced Section 545.3051 of the Texas Transportation Code, which authorizes the Texas Department of Transportation and law enforcement agencies to remove personal property if it blocks the roadway or endangers the public.

In this article, we will provide two examples of the use of this authority to illustrate how it helps to “clear the road,” and we will introduce Section 550.022 of the Texas Transportation Code. For the purposes of this article, we are assuming the vehicles can be driven. In cases in which the vehicle cannot be driven, please refer back to the earlier newsletter article.

Section 545.3051 in Action

Scene 1: An officer pulls up behind a car stopped on the shoulder of a high-speed roadway and notifies dispatch. The back left tire is flat.

The officer approaches from the passenger side and the driver says, “Thanks for stopping officer, but it’s OK, I called road service and someone is coming to help me.”

The officer inquires: “How long have you been waiting here?”

“Almost 45 minutes,” replies the stranded motorist.

The officer is faced with a situation where a person on the side of the road has a flat and a good spare tire in the vehicle. In addition, the driver is waiting for a tow truck that is under contract from a road service, which can take time. The flat is inches away from the travel portion of the road where it is extremely unsafe to change. What should the officer do?

Best practice: In this instance, the officer should tell the motorist he will drive behind him with the lights on to the next exit, side-street or parking lot – wherever it is safe – and help him change the tire. Many officers are injured each year while helping motorists with their vehicles on a busy road. Make sure to quickly direct the driver to a safe place and then assist, if necessary.

Scene 2: After arriving at the scene of a motor vehicle crash, an officer observes two cars blocking the right lanes of the freeway. The drivers are standing between the cars while exchanging information. What should the officer do?

Best practice: The officer should activate his overhead emergency lights, don his safety vest and approach the drivers. He should tell the motorists to drive the cars to the next parking lot so he can complete the accident report. Even if driving the car to a safe place will damage the vehicle further, this practice still should be instituted. The lives of the officer and motorists are far more important than the vehicle. More often than not, the motorists will understand the possibility of causing another crash when explained by an officer.

Section 550.022

In addition to Section 545.3051, the Texas Transportation Code protects officers in Section 550.022, which states:

“(b) If an accident occurs on a main lane, ramp, shoulder, median, or adjacent area of a freeway in a metropolitan area and each vehicle involved can be normally and safely driven, each operator shall move the operator’s vehicle as soon as possible to a designated accident investigation site, if available, a location on the frontage road, the nearest suitable cross street, or other suitable location to complete the requirements of Section 550.023 and minimize interference with freeway traffic.”

Conclusion

The bottom line is that officer and motorist safety is the top priority. As mentioned in the January article, hundreds of men and women in various emergency response fields across the country are severely injured or killed as a result of secondary traffic accidents each year. Secondary accidents are a major concern when dealing with crashes on busy roadways. To keep yourself and other motorists safe, clear the road!

About the authors: Howard McCann, P.E., is transportation training director for the Texas Engineering Extension Service. Retired from the U. S. Department of Transportation, McCann now works with TEEX specialists in law enforcement and fire services, and helped develop the agency’s new Safe Practices for Traffic Incident Responders course.

Robert Averitt, a 28-year veteran of the Austin Police Department, has extensive experience with clearing traffic incidents and also contributed to the development of TEEX’s Safe Practices for Traffic Incident Responders curriculum. He serves as an adjunct instructor for the TEEX course.

About TEEX: The Texas Engineering Extension Service, or TEEX, is a member of the Texas A&M University System and offers hands-on, customized first-responder training, homeland security exercises, technical assistance and technology transfer services impacting Texas and beyond. TEEX programs include fire services, homeland security, law enforcement, public works, safety and health, search and rescue and economic development.

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