Roadside safety tips may save lives

State patrol explains ways to be helpful, not add to problem

By Bob Albrecht, Columbian Staff Reporter

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The Washington State Patrol supports and appreciates good-willed drivers pulling off the freeway to help someone stalled by a blown tire or overheated engine — with a caveat: “If you are going to stop, you need to look out for your own personal safety,” said Trooper Ryan Tanner.

In the past 11 months, the state patrol has investigated seven automotive vs. pedestrian fatalities in southwest Washington, including three in Clark County. The most recent saw a man killed on northbound Interstate 5 just south of Woodland after he had stopped to check on someone who had wrecked her car on a bridge.

In total, that crash snared four vehicles and resulted in serious injuries to two women in addition to the death of the man, Ronnie Walker, 61, of Spokane.

At the time, Sgt. Thomas Butsch of the state patrol said, “There’s no shoulders on the bridge. There’s just no space there. A vehicle is really more dangerous than a firearm.”

The circumstances of the seven fatalities were not all alike; they did not all involve eager-to-help good Samaritans. Still, state patrol officials offered a series of tips for people who either have to or choose to stop on the side of the freeway.

“They do have to stop in a safe place if they can, and take steps to look out for your own safety and make sure you don’t become part of the incident,” Tanner said. “That’s one of things I consider as a law enforcement officer when I’m pulling up to a collision.”

Additionally, the state patrol says:

• Do not walk on the freeways.

• If you are driving and your vehicle becomes disabled, pull as far to the right as possible. If you have to exit the vehicle, get out on the passenger side. Always keep an eye on traffic.

• If you need to change a flat tire, call roadside assistance or 911 if you feel unsafe. The state patrol will respond.

• If you’re involved in a collision and your car is drivable, move it to the right side of the road. If it is not drivable, get to a safe place and call 911.

• Good Samaritans stopping to help out at a collision should park somewhere safe, call 911 and keep an eye on traffic.

Washington has recently implemented a pair of laws to help keep people who stopped or broken down safe, as well as the law enforcement and tow truck drivers called on to help out. One new mandate is that police, tow truck drivers and other responders wear bright yellow vests to make them more easily noticed by passing motorists. The other requires those same motorists to move left, away from a crash, giving responders room to safely maneuver around a crash.

Both laws, Vancouver Police Traffic Sgt. Patrick Johns said, require drivers to pay attention.

“You have to be defensively driving and that means 100 percent attention almost all the time,” he said. “If you see lights — yellow, red, blue, etc. — you should go at least 10 miles per hour below the posted speed limit.”

Johns said the best way for people to help someone in an accident is to pull off somewhere safe and call 911.

“Don’t assume people have called,” he said. “It’s better to have everyone call than no one.”

Bob Albrecht: 360-735-4522, bob.albrecht@columbian.com.