Law requires vehicles in accidents to be moved

Monday, October 18th 2004, 6:18 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ It used to be that motorists involved in a collision had to leave their vehicle at the point of impact until law enforcement officers investigated the accident scene.

These days in Oklahoma, that could lead to a citation.

A state law that been in effect for almost a year requires drivers to ``make every reasonable effort'' to keep vehicles in accidents from blocking traffic. That includes driving, pushing or otherwise moving wrecked automobiles out of the way, even before an officer arrives.

The law does not apply to accidents involving death or injury, or to vehicles carrying hazardous materials.

The policy known as ``quick clearance'' or ``clear roads'' is used in many other states. It's used to reduce traffic jams or slow-ups and ``secondary accidents'' that occur when other vehicles crash into wrecked, stopped or slowed vehicles.

``I've seen many situations where people will put their lives in harm's way to leave (damaged vehicles) where they are,'' said Sgt. Charles Phillips, spokesman for the Oklahoma City Police Department, who was a fatality traffic investigator for 12 years. ``That is the reason this law was enacted.''

The law is cited in bold print in the Oklahoma Driver's Manual. Also, emergency dispatchers now will instruct drivers, most of whom have never heard of the new law, to move their vehicles.

OHP spokesman Lt. Brandon Kopepasah said the law has had an impact.

``It definitely eases traffic movement. It saves a lot of heartache,'' Kopepasah said.

According to a Texas Transportation Institute study from 2002, traffic congestion in 75 U.S. urban areas in 2000 cost $67 billion. Crashes and vehicle breakdowns caused more than half that congestion.

Also, 34 law officers and emergency workers were killed in ``secondary crashes'' in 2001, when vehicles struck them at scenes of accidents, according to a 2003 study from the Transportation Research Board in Washington.

Oklahoma's law was the result of a three-year study, said Jerry Church, spokesman for the Association of Central Oklahoma Governments.

``We realized a lot of minor fender-benders ... caused a great deal of congestion, particularly during premium drive time,'' Church said.

However, not moving vehicles after an accident makes determining who was at fault harder, said insurance adjuster Phil Combs, who chairs the Oklahoma Insurance Adjusters Roundtable, a group that meets with the state insurance commissioner to discuss policy several times a year.

Sometimes, knowing exactly where vehicles stopped or how they were oriented to each other after a collision is important to know, Combs said.

``If the cars are moved, unfortunately, we're not able to do that,'' Combs said.

Drivers who might otherwise have been able to blame another driver might have to file claims with their own insurer. That can lead an insurer deeming a driver being totally or partially at fault.

``That may count against him in his renewal,'' Combs said.

Trooper Pete Norwood, an OHP spokesman, agreed that moving vehicles before the scene can be measured ``does make it a lot harder'' to tell what happened.

But skid marks, debris and other details usually are enough for officers to figure things out, he said.