Arizona has this problem: On interstates and highways, when there’s a major wreck, we have to sit in traffic for three, four or five hours to get past the wreck. Arizona should implement the Illinois Minutemen policy: As accident victims are cared for, the state reacts to clear the road, within half an hour or sooner.
Accident investigation standards are met with measurements, photos and video. The wreckage is not just moved to the side but taken out of visual sight to avoid a gapers block, which is when drivers slow down to gape at wrecked vehicles even when lanes are open, which often slows traffic about as much as a blocked lane.
This is done with dedicated tow trucks, powerful enough to remove semi-trailers. The drivers are on call, so time is not lost waiting on regular tow services.
This is cost efficient. Have you ever joined 10,000 other drivers in a line 30 miles long for five hours to pass a wreck? I have, between Phoenix and Tucson. Thus, combined we lost 50,000 hours of time. Try that, and you might think Gov. Ducey and the Legislature could spring for some good tow trucks to avoid all that.
Safety comes first, so when it takes longer to remove large vehicles or to work in extreme weather, that’s to be expected. But in Illinois to clear even a major wreck, it does not take three, four or five hours.
Per dollar spent, it’s an efficient infrastructure program. It’s cheaper to keep roads flowing properly rather than let them jam up regularly, and then build more roads, just to let them jam up too. Every extra hour taken to clear a road adds backup, multiplying the time it gets past the mile marker that has already been cleared of the crash. If we can clear wrecks quickly, then why take longer?
These delays hinder business, employees going to work and tourism, a major industry. Nothing like four hours stuck in traffic, missing meetings and events, wasting travel costs, to make people talk about Arizona, and not in a good way. These delays increase costs for police.
In multicar accidents, the tow-truck drivers should first drop the wrecks at the next exit on the shoulders of the side road or frontage road, then quickly return to get the next vehicle and the next. Only after the traffic is flowing should wrecks be transferred longer distances to a storage yard. The extra hours for a few tow drivers saves tens of thousands of hours for everyone else.
Articles about the Illinois program miss the main original and ongoing policy intent — to avoid huge traffic delays. Arizona’s system for stranded cars, however, works just fine.
Rather, Arizonans only need a policy change, starting with a handful of powerful tow trucks on call, to remove crashes quickly from highways. As much as we would like to avoid it, big wrecks will keep happening as our state grows, so let’s plan accordingly, eliminating these unnecessarily long delays.
Troy Deckert is a Coolidge resident who has worked in the public and private sectors.