Winter Driving Safety, Traffic Incident Management and You

Every year in the first days of new snow on our roads we experience an uptick in traffic crashes.  I can’t figure out why because it snows here every year at about the same time. It is like people forget winter driving after 6 months of no snow.  Perhaps when you add to it the early darkness which means that the majority of commuting is during dark hours, it should not be so surprising.

Winter driving safety means watching your speed.

We often find ways to partner with neighboring communities Troy and Bloomfield Township.  We were looking for ways  to change the way in which we handle incidents on the freeways that wouldn’t cost more but would make a significant improvement to the lives of the people who work and live in our communities.  And with input from the Michigan Department of Transportation we found it:  Traffic Incident Management AKA “Quick Clearance” as our police officers call it.  Since 2007, we make an extra effort to stay off the freeways during the peak traffic periods whether that is for a car in a ditch or a minor traffic crash.  Yes, I know that we were all taught in drivers ed to stay at the scene of any traffic crash and not move the cars.  However, when the scene of the crash is a heavily traveled freeway, that doesn’t really make sense and Michigan law now says that you can move your vehicle from the scene if it is driveable.   Sitting on the roadway edge is very dangerous, for you and for us.  We want to limit the amount of time anyone is out there.

Additionally, we are serious about helping the commuting public get where it wants to go (through our city) in a timely way.  We know that when the traffic backs up, for any cause, residual crashes occur creating yet more potential for injury, property damage and delay.  None of that is good.  As a result of the changes we made in 2007 the Michigan Department of Transportation found that we reduced crashes on the freeway system in our city alone by 31% in 2008.  A pretty amazing statistic.  We were even more encouraged by this strategy after we saw that.  And we realized what that number means in terms of people’s lives and wallets.

So if you are unfortunate and have a traffic crash in any of these 3 communities we’ll be asking you to move off the freeway to meet an officer in a nearby parking lot to complete a crash report.  If your car slides into a ditch, we have an agreement with the local wrecker services that they will not attempt to pull cars from ditches during peak traffic periods.  Instead we’d be happy to help you get off the freeway to wait in a safe, warm place until the peak period is over to retrieve your car.  We’ll wrap the car in yellow “POLICE” tape to let passing motorists know we have seen the car and we’ll deal with it later.  No need to call, slow down or otherwise pay any attention to the car on the roadside when it is wearing this tape.

Another way we make the roadway safer and keep traffic moving is to clear the shoulders of the road prior to snowstorms so that the plows can work quickly and efficiently.  That means that if you leave a car on the roadside overnight or any significant period of time because it is disabled or whatever, if a snowstorm is predicted in the next 12 hours or so, your car will likely be impounded as a roadway danger.  Because we take this step the commute to work will be as smooth as possible for hundreds or even thousands of people who travel through our community.

The tape we use looks like this.

Oh and there is one more important reason police want to limit their activities on the freeway:  the leading cause of line-of-duty deaths for police is traffic crashes.  Unfortunately officers on roadways get hit all too often. 

I hope you can avoid winter traffic crashes.

  • Leave plenty of space between you and the car ahead of you.
  • Watch your speed and only drive as fast as conditions permit – usually slower than you usually drive.
  • Remember that when the temperature reaches about 32 degrees that moisture freezes on the roadway and forms ice that you can’t readily see –black ice that is very dangerous.
  • Take your time and arrive at your destination safely.
  • Watch your holiday alcohol intake–it impairs judgement

I am aware that not all police agencies share our way of thinking about this sort of thing.  But I believe we should use strategies that don’t cost any of the public’s money but have been found to provide good outcomes in terms of reduced crashes, injuries and limits traffic congestion.

Good luck.

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I'm the Chief of Police for the Auburn Hills Police Department.