Note: This article contains a great description of how many accidents and injuries are caused merely by subsequent cars arriving to the scene of an accident and either gawking at the accident scene, or driving recklessly around the accident scene. This endangers accident victims, emergency personnel, and innocent motorists who are driving properly. These reckless and indifferent motorists are breaking traffic laws when they commit these acts and they will easily be held liable for any injuries they inflict – especially since emergency personnel witnesses trying to save lives make great witnesses in any subsequent civil case. – John H. Bryan, West Virginia car accident attorney.
From the Beckley Register-Herald:
Police: Driver impatience can lead to more accidents
Amelia A. Pridemore
Oak Hill police handled a four-vehicle accident last Thursday afternoon, but while the wrecked cars were cleared from the scene, far worse damage from a resulting traffic jam remained on U.S. 19.
After the “chain-reaction,” multi-vehicle rear-end crash at the Greentown Road exit, about 30 to 40 motorists plowed across the grassy, muddy U.S. 19 median to get into the cleared northbound lanes, Lt. C.N. Williams said. Reportedly, at least one driver wound up stuck. Tire tracks and mud were found in the median throughout the approximately one-mile backup site.
Other drivers resorted to driving backward on entrance ramps, Williams said.
Traffic jams often result from vehicle accidents, but police say impatient motorists often make matters worse. Their extreme methods of trying to find a way out of traffic sometimes cause even more accidents, and those drivers put themselves, other motorists and emergency responders at risk.
Patrolman 1st Class C.A. Young said traffic jams ensue after almost every car accident and drivers automatically want to find a way out. That happens both on U.S. 19 and city streets.
Driving through the U.S. 19 median, he said, is especially dangerous because of the 55 mph speed limit in the city limits.
“It takes time to get turned around, get up to speed and not get hit,” he said.
Any time U.S. 19 is partly or totally closed, an Oak Hill officer besides the one investigating the accident will be sent to the scene to monitor the traffic for risky motorist behavior, Young said. The Fayette County Sheriff’s Department will often back them up. But even having police officers in fully marked cruisers at the scene does not stop some drivers.
“The drivers don’t seem to pay attention to us more than they do anyone else,” Young said.
Officers responding to wrecks and other calls on U.S. 19 are often put at risk, Young said. A relatively new state law requires motorists to move into the left lane or sharply decrease speed if a police officer is stopped off the roadway. Despite that, officers find themselves nearly struck by vehicles often.
“On 19, we can be doing a traffic stop, wreck or assisting a disabled motorist,” Young said. “Officers are nearly hit.
“We will stop and see if someone needs help, and cars just fly past us.”
U.S. 19 is not the only roadway where officers see such problems. State Police Trooper 1st Class R.T. Stinson said drivers on the West Virginia Turnpike will also go to extreme and illegal methods of avoiding traffic jams. Besides driving through medians and the wrong way on ramps, people will often drive through emergency lanes, he noted.
“Let emergency workers do their jobs,” he said. “Eventually, traffic will clear enough for one lane to reopen and traffic will get moving.”
Stinson estimated subsequent accidents occur about 50 percent of the time. From his experience, a lot of the drivers are simply not paying attention.
“They’re on their cell phones, eating — then they come into slower traffic from an accident and crash into the back of a car,” Stinson said. “One woman was driving with her knees, putting her makeup on.”
Sometimes, gawking causes accidents, he said. He was once helping a motorist whose vehicle broke down. Someone was rubber-necking and caused a multi-vehicle rear-end crash.
Like Young, Stinson said turnpike troopers are often nearly struck while responding to accidents and other calls, even though the Parkways Authority has posted several signs reminding motorists of the “move-over” law.
“We’ve almost been hit several times while doing our jobs out here,” he said.
Both Young and Stinson said driving in medians, U-turns, going the wrong way on exit ramps and driving in emergency lanes are illegal, and motorists can be cited. Young noted someone can be charged with destruction of state property for damaging a median.
But when an officer is tied up with an accident investigation, enforcement becomes difficult, especially when so many drivers are breaking the law at the same time, according to both.
Stinson said unless the actions of other motorists are clearly more life-threatening than the accident, an officer must focus on the investigation. He likened the situation to playing in a basketball game.
“The crowd is cheering, but you’re having to focus on that foul shot,” he said. “That’s what a traffic investigation is like. You have to concentrate and keep everyone safe as possible. You don’t catch everyone.”