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Gridlock Guy: Culprit for tedious crash cleanups isn’t far away

By Doug Turnbull, For the AJC #atlanta-ga

Atlanta traffic is on quite the kick these days. There have been several gnarly wrecks, such as the recent 18-vehicle melee on I-285 that we covered last week. Rain and speed, combined with the slowly-increasing traffic volume all hours of the day, have made the perfect recipe for crashed-car casseroles. And another trend continues in relation to this: increasing numbers of traffic cones at cleanups.

From our view in the WSB Skycopter and on the WSB Jam Cams, we repeatedly see the slanted wedges of traffic cones at some crash and road work scenes. Those safe zones have seemingly gotten bigger in the past couple of years and maybe even more so during the pandemic. Downsides of a larger safety zone include the imprint of an incident being larger and clearing it taking longer, since the HERO operators have to remove so many cones.

But drivers often have their own bad and dangerous habits to blame for crash scenes taking up more room and longer to clear. Tragically, construction worker Martin Rivera lost his life on I-75/northbound in Marietta on Saturday, September 12th, when a car struck him and threw him into traffic. Another car hit him and stopped. The one that initially hit him left the scene and police arrested the driver over a week later. Rivera was setting up construction signs on the shoulder of the interstate. Rivera was not even in a travel lane when he got hit. There is no excuse for that.

This flippant, reckless driving behavior is a pattern, as we covered here in February. First responders and construction workers often put their lives on the line when they work on roads. The distractions behind the wheel have never been greater, both because of smartphones and the sleek infotainment systems in dashboards. And drivers seemingly have never been more disconnected from the act itself, as American culture has migrated even more from heralding the automobile.

HERO operators often determine how many cones to put out and much more determines the scope than the driving prowess of passersby. The size of the crash, the curvature of the road, and where the wreck sits in the road all impact how many cones they set up. And they are under more pressure to increase the safety zone, given the recklessness of how people drive.

Another reason crash scenes take longer to clear is delayed arrival of responders. Sometimes drivers in the backup from a crash decide to drive on and eventually block the emergency lanes. This happened in Morrow last Tuesday during a large crash on I-75/southbound south of Highway 19/41 (Exit 235). The crash was severe enough to block multiple lanes. But the scene stayed that way even longer because of impatient drivers blocking the shoulders, a source on the scene told the AJC and 95.5 WSB.

The drivers impatient enough to drive in unintended lanes to save themselves time ended up costing themselves and others even more time. That was a bad strategy. And doing so also potentially put at risk any injured that had delayed aid.

The bottom line in all of this is that we all have reasons to complain about rescue crews blocking an extra lane or three or setting out two-dozen more cones than what seems necessary. But HERO operators and officers alike have seen their jobs on the roads only become more dangerous. We, the impatient and inconsiderate drivers, are to blame. No single one of us can change the trend, but we all need to act together to try and move the needle.