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Quick clearance of a traffic incident shortens the amount of time responders are in harm’s way and reduces the incident duration, thereby reducing the opportunity for secondary crashes. In addition, swift clearance restores the roadway to its full traffic-carrying capacity, quickly minimizing the congestion that incidents cause.

Quick clearance frequently involves the removal of personal property, such as vehicles, cargo or debris. The Texas Transportation Code authorizes TxDOT and local law enforcement agencies to remove personal property if it blocks the roadway or endangers public safety.

Section 545.3051 was added to the Texas Transportation Code in 2003. Law Enforcement agencies in Texas have the legal authority to clear the roadway in a timely manner, and are also protected from claims of damage to the property unless removal is carried out in a reckless or grossly negligent manner.

This statute allows law enforcement to do what is necessary to move the vehicles and property, without the consent of the owner, for the safety of all motorists and responders.

Means of removal to encourage quick clearance include:

Driving a vehicle under its own power

Push bars on police cars

Tow chains

Tow trucks

Public works equipment

Voluntary assistance from public working in cooperation with law enforcement (Provide tow chain and request operators of large vehicles to tow/drag vehicles off the road.)

Agencies need to reevaluate their policies and procedures for pushing and towing and examine how their vehicles are equipped to allow officers to clear the roadway in an expedited fashion.

Responders should be prepared to promptly summon any special service or equipment needed, including wreckers, sweepers, traffic control devices, front-end loaders, cranes, utility crews, etc.

In summary, quick clearance promotes safety for both responders and road users, and minimizes traffic congestion. Drive it, push it, tow it or drag it. Clearing the road restores traffic flow and reduces secondary incidents. by Howard McCann, P.E., and Robert Averitt. Howard McCann, P.E., is the Texas Engineering Extension Service’s Transportation Training Director. Robert Averitt is a TEEX Adjunct Instructor and is a 28-year veteran of the Austin Police Department. This article originally appeared in Issue 1, 2008, TEEX Lone Star Roads newsletter. Reprinted with permission.

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