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Staying out of the traffic is a safer choice

QUESTION: Recently I was on the upper levels, between the Capilano and Westlynn exits, a two-lane-each-way section, and traffic was backed up.


Recently I was on the upper levels, between the Capilano and Westlynn exits, a two-lane-each-way section, and traffic was backed up. Eventually I arrived at the problem, a rear-ender accident where the "victim" car was already loaded on a trailer.

There were three police cars in attendance and two officers observing the traffic but not seeming to be otherwise involved.

I appreciate that without actually knowing all of the events/details of the accident, it is not possible to form any opinion. However, as the car was already on the trailer and there was no ambulance in attendance, it did not appear on the face of it to be a particularly serious problem, or it had least been largely dealt with.

The back-up was caused by the two lanes of cars interleaving, a process that inevitably delayed the flow of traffic - which leads me to my question:

Why did one of the policemen not take control of the traffic, stop one lane while allowing the other to flow through and then allowing the second lane to proceed, thereby greatly reducing any congestion resulting from the closure of the one lane?

It seemed such an obvious thing to do.

Christopher Kay North Vancouver

Dear Christopher:

Thank you for your question.

As you mention, without having been there, it is difficult for me to say exactly why the officers you saw chose to handle the traffic as they did. I can say that collision investigations conducted at the scene of an accident often require the ability to multitask. Helping distraught, often injured motorists, filling paperwork, and managing tow trucks, police cars and the ensuing traffic snarls can all be quite demanding.

That said, in the case you describe I can see four reasons the officers may have chosen not to further interfere with the flow of traffic.

First, having an officer intermittently stop traffic in one lane and then the other creates a lot of stop and go, and would likely not have sped things up.

Second, the alternating merge you describe is very well understood by drivers, is simple, and offers a reasonably safe way for traffic to merge from two lanes to one.

Third, keeping vehicles at a slow speed through collision scenes is an essential part of ensuring the safety of the involved drivers - who are likely out of their vehicles - the tow truck drivers and the officers present. We certainly don't want drivers hurrying through accident scenes.

Lastly, any time an officer is placed in front of moving traffic, the risk to his or her safety grows exponentially. In fact, more officers are killed in traffic incidents than through any other of the many risks we face. By far.

If we can avoid standing in traffic, we will.

Sgt. Peter DeVries Professional Standards Unit North Vancouver RCMP

Follow Peter on Twitter at www.

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