Safety is a two-way street. First responders are on our state’s highways aiding people along roadsides, but they also rely on safe drivers to protect them when they are clearing crashes or responding to other incidents. To raise awareness about the safety of first responders, the California Highway Patrol, California Department of Transportation and California Office of Traffic Safety are joining to promote “Crash Responder Safety Week” beginning today. Nearly every week throughout the country, a first responder is killed while helping clear a roadway crash and many more sustain life-altering injuries.
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration established this week to bring attention to the dangers of working at traffic incidents and to promote compliance with “Move Over” laws. Crash Responder Safety Week reminds drivers to safely move over for crash responders or slow down when approaching crash scenes if it is unsafe to change lanes. California’s “Move Over” law has been in effect for 15 years, but nearly 25 percent of people surveyed by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety were unaware there was a Move Over law in their state.
The lives of crash responders – the law enforcement, fire and rescue, emergency medical services, public works, transportation, towing and other roadway workers – are put at risk due to speeding, distractions, and careless drivers. These personnel provide critical aid as first responders and are called to duty at all hours of the day and night, in adverse weather conditions and next to traffic moving at high speeds.
In California, from 2017 through 2021, three CHP officers were killed and 146 injured – nine severely – while on the freeway shoulder or median performing their job.
Nationally, in 2019 alone, 11 officers were struck and killed while conducting traffic stops or other law enforcement activity, accounting for 41 percent of all emergency responders killed on the job. In addition, five officers were struck and killed while working motor vehicle crash scenes, and two officers were killed while assisting motorists with disabled vehicles. Also in 2019, 14 tow truck operators and three mobile mechanics, and nine fire/EMS personnel were by struck and killed by vehicles (source Emergency Responder Safety Institute).
“Each day our officers put their own safety at risk conducting traffic enforcement duties, investigating a crash or assisting the public alongside our busy freeways statewide,” said CHP Commissioner Amanda Ray. “Tragically, many have been killed or injured merely performing their job. This week and throughout the year, we strive to raise awareness of these risks so our personnel return home safely to their families each day.”
“First responders work tirelessly and risk their own safety to save lives at collision scenes,” said Caltrans Director Tony Taveras. “We need motorists to do their part to protect responders by slowing down, moving over a lane, and staying alert when approaching traffic incidents.”
“First responders put themselves in harm’s way to help strangers,” said OTS Director Barbara Rooney. “But they also have loved ones who need them to come home. We want drivers to understand the risks that they take every day, and the importance of slowing down and moving over for first responders so they can do their job safely.”
Motorists should be extra careful when approaching flashing emergency lights (red, blue, and amber) on stopped emergency vehicles working at roadway incidents. Avoid distractions like phones while driving and don’t drive if you’re tired or have been drinking or are under the influence of any drugs. Help protect the first responders who are working to protect you and other motorists on the highway.
For more information about Caltrans safety campaigns, visit BeWorkZoneAlert.com.