How do I stop traffic on a major freeway?
March 2, 2005 5:54 PM   Subscribe

How do I stop traffic on a busy freeway?

If a car loses large cargo (mattress, bike, ladder, etc) on a major freeway at a busy time, how does traffic get stopped to get the item out of the middle? Assuming the item doesn't cause an immediate accident, what happens? And what are the laws related to this? I've witnessed this a few times, and I've always felt bad about not stopping to help - but I just didn't know what to do.
posted by monkeystronghold to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total)
Some good samaritan stops in the travel lane behind the offending object? Personally, I call 911. I don't have a lot of sympathy for people that lose poorly secured cargo. They are causing a huge fucking hazard. I can't count how many times I've seen two assholes driving down I-95, each with an arm out the window holding a mattress. Ever heard of rope? If you lose your bike off a roof rack and tell me about it I'll probably be ROTFLMAO.
posted by fixedgear at 6:00 PM on March 2, 2005

Your job is to call 9-1-1. The dispatchers will dispatch police and/or other emergency vehicles to the site. In Portland, we have specialized DOT vehicles that have LOTS of lights and trained drivers, and are responsible for responding to disabled vehicles and traffic obstructions.

If you try to stop traffic yourself, chances are that you'll be the next victim of a latte-sipping, cell-phone using yuppie that wasn't paying attention, and they don't want to have to scrape you off the road on TOP of whatever debris was on the road.
posted by SpecialK at 6:03 PM on March 2, 2005

Oh, and if you do stop behind the obstruction with your blinkers on, chances are the cops, when they get there, will write you a ticket to discourage future stupidity. Just don't do it.
posted by SpecialK at 6:04 PM on March 2, 2005

Seriously, I cannot emphasize enough how much you should not attempt to stop traffic yourself. Every year, hundreds of first responders are killed in "struck by" accidents occuring on the scene of a disturbance or accident. And those people are trained in this stuff. As a concerned citizen, your job is to call 911, report the location and whatnot, and act as witness should that be necessary. Don't endanger your life or others' in the process!
posted by lazaruslong at 6:20 PM on March 2, 2005

Pull off onto the shoulder before dialing, if at all possible. Not that you wouldn't, it's that just some people don't think and drive.
posted by Eideteker at 6:30 PM on March 2, 2005

lazaruslong: Every year, hundreds of first responders are killed in "struck by" accidents occuring on the scene of a disturbance or accident.

Do you have a cite for this? "Hundreds" annually, seems too large a magnitude.
posted by Gyan at 6:54 PM on March 2, 2005

If you (without any outside factors) stop in the middle of an interstate the probability of the activity resulting in a fatality is a bit more than 5%. This is outside the what, in the field, we call 'chance.' Meaning that you should not attempt it at these numbers unless you change the activity. The easiest way to do this is to allow someone with proper training and equipment (read, a LEO trained in traffic management with a wig wag and christmas tree ontop of his/her vehicle) execute the activity.

Let the 911 boys do the lifting.

(Gyan, I totally believe the number lazaruslong has posted. Just remember the NTSB stats are not always a clear idea of what is happening on the roadways.)
posted by sled at 7:27 PM on March 2, 2005

The way cops do it in heavy traffic is pick out a gap in the traffic, turn on their flashers, and start swerving across a larger and larger area, gradually bringing traffic to a stop. This probably doesn't help much, but apparently traffic has a lot of "momentum" and this is what it takes -- was impressive to see this in action.
posted by rolypolyman at 8:19 PM on March 2, 2005

A gallon of molasses should do the trick, if you are anywhere south of Atlanta.
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 8:31 PM on March 2, 2005

What rolypolyman said. A cop will swerve across all lanes back nd forth, slowly bringing the speed down until everyne is going about 30. The further back they slow traffic, the longer they have to clear the obstruction. This is usually done without actually stopping traffic.
posted by Nothing at 8:36 PM on March 2, 2005

10 police officers were killed in struck-by accidents in 2003 - source

During the 5-year period between 1995 and 1999, 17 fire fighters were struck and killed by motorists. - source

610 pedestrians are killed on US Interstate highways each year. . .Forty percent involved pedestrians crossing or entering a lane of traffic. - source

See who's safer? Dial 911.
posted by techgnollogic at 11:21 PM on March 2, 2005

How do I stop traffic on a busy freeway?

If you have a face that could stop traffic, just stand at the side of the road. (If you also have legs that go for miles, you could stand like a beacon above the scene.)

Otherwise, call 911. They are paid for stuff like that.
posted by pracowity at 11:29 PM on March 2, 2005

You're not trained to do this so don't try. It's like stopping at a burning building and trying to figure out how to put it out. Any firefighter will tell you to get your layperson ass out of the way.

Don't do more damage. That's rule #1. Your body in place of whatever object is lying in the road? That's damage.
posted by scarabic at 12:46 AM on March 3, 2005

This isn't an answer but I have to post it anyway: try to do your best to get away from any vehicles with weird loads or cargo that could be unsecured. More than a decade later, I remain completely traumatized by an early news story I did about a woman who was driving behind a pickup with a sheet of wood that went flying and came through her windshield, neatly decapitating her. It was a fucking hideous thing to see and I always avoid geting stuck behind pickups with stuff in them. Please do the same.
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:14 AM on March 3, 2005

I once tried to stop traffic for 30-second periods of time on a not-so-busy stretch of PA state highway (two lanes), using orange vests and a couple of flagmen. The reason was that the traffic noise was spoiling the audio on a film we were shooting and for various reasons the scene couldn't be shot M.O.S.

Predictably, people laid on their horns, negating the intended effect. I quit when some folks got out and informed us they were getting ready to physically assault my flagmen. The 30 second delay backed up traffic for over a mile, by the way.

Cops came by about an hour later. When we informed them that we'd decided it was a stupid idea, they agreed, and also pointed out that under some statute it is a misdemeanor. But since we'd quit, they didn't bug us about it.

Bottom line: It's a stupid idea. Let the authorities handle it.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:38 AM on March 3, 2005

In the movies about fifty years ago, sticking a scantily-clad leg (preferably with garters) towards the road worked. Not sure if it works now.
posted by rolypolyman at 7:47 AM on March 3, 2005

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