On the ride to work the other day, I was treated to an all-too-familiar sight around these parts: the aftermath of an automobile accident. This time it was sedan vs. sedan. Not too much damage to either car, and certainly not enough to disable the vehicles. But for some inexplicable reason, both drivers decided that the proper thing to do immediately following the accident was to leave their cars in the middle of busy travel lanes.
Okay, perhaps it’s not so inexplicable. It seems that many drivers have been taught by their parents, driving schools, and insurance companies not to move their vehicles following an accident until police arrive. That’s because the folks from CSI: Miami are going to show up at the scene of your accident and use fancy chemicals and green lasers to determine exactly who is at fault. And if you move your vehicle after the accident—even an inch!—then David Caruso is going to put on his sunglasses in a dramatic fashion and say something like, “There’s nothing more we can do here, Detective.”
I’m here to tell you that keeping your car in the middle of traffic following an accident is wrong, dangerous, and possibly illegal. If you don’t believe me, perhaps you’ll believe these intimidating bullet points:
- It’s wrong. Assuming the police even bother to investigate your accident, they can normally determine all of the information they need from two things: the damage to the vehicles, and the testimony of the drivers and passengers. Even if one party of a two-car collision completely lies to the investigating officers, they’re usually keen enough to weed out the lies and piece together what really happened. Another reason leaving your car in the middle of traffic is wrong: all you’re doing is inconveniencing hundreds, possibly thousands of other drivers. Even if you’re not the one at fault, that’s just a jackass kind of thing to do.
- It’s dangerous. When you block travel lanes with your accident-involved vehicle, you disrupt the normal flow of traffic. And when you disrupt the normal flow of traffic for commuters who are used to the same driving pattern each day, you’re dramatically increasing the probability of more accidents, possibly one that’ll turn you into a pancake while you’re busy yelling at the other driver.
- It’s possibly illegal. At any other time, stopping your car in the middle of travel lanes would be illegal. Any police officer in his or her right mind would ticket you, tow you, or just plain old arrest you. Does being involved in an accident make it any more legal to park in the center lane of your local expressway if you can help it? I don’t think so. Unfortunately law enforcement doesn’t seem to punish this sort of behavior, possibly because it’s been ingrained in them as well.
So if you’re a driver involved in an automobile accident, what should you do to prevent yourself from doing something wrong, dangerous, and possibly illegal? Simple: move your freaking car out of traffic if you can. The only reasons you shouldn’t move your car out of traffic following an accident is (a) your car won’t move, or (b) someone in, near, or under your car is seriously injured.
Got it? Good. Time for a pop quiz!
Question: You were just gently rear ended at a traffic light, and now your car is sitting across three travel lanes. The other vehicle shows no significant damage and has pulled out of traffic. You’re not bleeding or dying or anything, and your vehicle is still operational. What should you do?
- A. Keep your vehicle in the middle of three busy traffic lanes until the police arrive which they’re not going to since nobody is injured and neither car needs towing, get out of your car, dodge traffic, yell at the other driver for 10 or 20 minutes, exchange insurance information, walk back into traffic, take 79 pictures of the damage to your vehicle with your digital camera, call your spouse from your cell phone and complain for another 15 minutes, and then continue driving to work.
- B. Get the hell out of traffic you dumbass. I don’t care about what you do after that.
If you answered A, then congratulations on disproving the theory of human evolution.
You might be wondering where I got the “idiots blocking traffic costs you $18 million a year” figure, so allow me to explain. Back in college, I had an internship with the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT). When I wasn’t busy designing sky highways for flying cars, I was fortunate enough to be invited on tours of interesting facilities like the area below the Baltimore Inner Harbor Tunnel, the place where they make street signs, and the top-secret facility where MDOT can view 30 bajillion cameras placed on highways around the state.
That last tour was the most interesting because the guide explained that the state and local police asked for permission a while back to monitor these video feeds MDOT had installed all over the place. MDOT said sure, but only if the police promised to work harder to move accident-involved vehicles from travel lanes. The police agreed, and now one of their top priorities when showing up at the scene of an accident is getting cars out of traffic and then investigating what happened.
Why did MDOT want those vehicles out of the way so badly? As the tour guide explained, cars that stop in travel lanes following minor accidents cause commuters to lose hundreds of millions of hours of productivity each year. That costs the state of Maryland a lot of tax money, and that tax money is how MDOT is funded.
At the end of the tour, I asked just how much these stupid drivers are costing me each year.
The tour guide responded, “If it weren’t for idiots stopping in traffic after every fender bender, you’d be making $18 million more each year.”
I gasped, “$18 million a year? Can you prove that?”
He replied, “Sure! Just as soon as everyone stops blocking half the road every time they get side-swiped, your salary will jump to $18 million a year.”
I laughed and said, “But that’s never going to happen.”
“Then I guess I can never be proven wrong,” he said with a smile.
So the next time you see a stupid driver stopped in the middle of traffic after getting tapped on the bumper, send them a bill for $18 million. Or just flip them off, which can be just as satisfying.