Move over, slow down, stay safe

Published 9:42 pm Thursday, November 14, 2019

I can only imagine what it is like for Virginia Department of Transportation employees who have to respond to incidents on our region’s roads, whether they are having to provide emergency medical assistance, help a stranded motorist or respond to an accident.

In any case, it’s a dangerous job, one highlighted by two VDOT employees Wednesday as part of National Traffic Incident Response Awareness Week. I was on the north island of the Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge Tunnel speaking with them. I’ll say that standing outside and hearing and seeing the cars and trucks drive through the tunnel and on the bridge gives an even greater sense of the speed at which we move through our world.

Timothy Morrison, a bridge-tunnel operations program manager, highlighted the small margin of error in the tunnel as he recalled how he and others responded to an Oct. 18 incident in which he performed CPR and deployed an Automated External Defibrillator on a man who had crashed.


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With each tunnel just 24 feet wide, it doesn’t provide much room for first responders to get to the scene of an incident in a tunnel. There is much more that goes into the response than I have space to describe, but suffice to say that there are many moving parts to it all. Assessing the incident and determining what resources are needed, getting them in and out of there, and managing what quickly turns into a miles-long backup that leaves many stranded for hours are all parts of the solution.

Phil Fonner, a traffic incident management coordinator who has been hit twice by vehicles and had his own vehicle hit in a third incident, said too many drivers are in too much of a hurry, and asks folks to move over when they are near an incident — and if they cannot move over, then slow down.

That seems like common sense, but clearly, we still need to hear the message.

I get it.

We all want to get where we want, and need, to go, and we want to get there without delay.

I also get that attention spans seem to be shorter, and there are many distractions within and outside our vehicles.

But if you’ve driven long enough, you’ve likely been in an accident, had close calls or got stuck in traffic while waiting for first responders to deal with the incident at hand.

My latest close call came a few days ago as I was driving into Suffolk. I was coming off of U.S. Route 58 by the Southeastern Public Service Authority Transfer Station when a large pickup truck doing at least 90 miles per hour came from what seemed like out of nowhere to get within inches of my rear bumper. That driver seemed willing to send me and my vehicle into the trees, the guardrail or otherwise into oblivion.

Before I could switch lanes and get out of his way, the driver continued to stay within inches of my car and, through my mirror, I could see him gesturing. And after what seemed like an eternity that I was able to move over, the driver flashed me a middle finger and kept going, weaving dangerously in and out of traffic.

Like Fonner told me, we all have families that we’d like to get back home to at the end of the day, but having to dodge reckless drivers makes that task more difficult and dangerous.

It doesn’t take much to pay attention, but it only takes a split second to look down at a phone, or otherwise be distracted, to put many lives, including your own, at risk.

If we can all agree that we don’t like to sit in traffic, and that no one wants to get hurt while driving, then it seems we can all take simple steps to minimize the distractions inside the car, because there’s so many more outside of it we need to be alert to be able to react to — all in that so-called split-second we take to miss what’s happening in front of us as we drive.

I have a wife and daughter to go home to. Everyone has a reason to want to get where they’re going. Let’s do it together, safely.

We’ll all be thankful, and better off, for it.