Justin Guinan had been an incident responder for ODOT for close to a year when he had his first major close call. He was responding to a multi-vehicle crash on I-5 when a distracted driver slammed into the back of his incident response truck.
“The car hit where I would have been standing to pull out cones for traffic control," Guinan said. "Fortunately for me, I had walked over to talk with another responder before going to get the cones. Otherwise, I might not be here today.”
Guinan’s story is far from unique. Every year, hundreds of emergency responders experience close calls or are struck and either injured or killed while responding to traffic incidents.
Now, as ODOT’s Traffic Incident Management Program coordinator, Guuinan spends his days training fellow responders from all disciplines—and in particular law enforcement, fire and tow—in best practices for how to clear a scene safely and quickly. The goal is to reduce the risks posed by passing vehicles as effectively as possible while getting off the road and out of harm’s way as quickly as possible.
Drivers are key to saving lives
While training incident responders is critical, so too is getting the traveling public involved.
“We now have two different times of the year dedicated to building awareness of the dangers our responders face – and what all of us can do to help,” Guinan said. “One is National Move Over Day in October, and the other is next week.”
Beginning this Sunday, the Federal Highway Administration, along with partners and responders around the nation, will mark National Traffic Incident Response Awareness Week, November 10-16.
The 2019 theme is “TEAM Stands for Traffic Emergency Actions Matter: SAFETY IS A TEAM EFFORT!”
That theme focuses on the fact that every person has a role in traffic incident response, including drivers. The response of a driver is just as important as the response of the person towing a vehicle, rescuing the trapped, healing the injured and investigating the incident.
What can I do to help?
- Slow down and move over when approaching and passing an incident scene to provide a protective buffer for you, responders and the motorists behind you. Learn more about Oregon’s Move Over Law.
- If you can steer it, clear it. Many drivers think they should not move their car if they are involved in a fender-bender or crash. Even if their vehicle is drivable and there are no injuries, they believe they should wait until the police arrive and can make an accident report before moving their cars. But this is not true and actually puts them, their vehicles and other people’s lives at risk. Check out our PSA to learn more about Oregon’s Move It Law.
- Don’t drive ‘intexticated.’ Our Distracted Driving Law is one of the strictest in the nation, and for good reason. Every time you text and drive or engage in other risky behaviors behind the wheel, you put yourself and everyone around you in danger.
- Get TIM trained to level up on life-saving traffic incident management best practices! You can request your own, or participate in an upcoming TIM training near you.
- Share your concerns, and your fears, in the most effective way you can for your community.
- Use message boards to spread the message to slow down and move over.
- When you have a captive audience in your vehicle, ask folks what they would do in approaching and/or passing an incident scene.