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It’s time to make it personal.

The message from the Colorado state Patrol is that you (and only you) can prevent serious secondary crashes caused by ignoring state law. Not “moving over and slowing down” when approaching the site of an existing roadway accident or breakdown has been enforced for more than 17 years and is the law in all 50 states.

Yet people still don’t pay attention and moreover, most involved driver’s report to law enforcement “I’m a good driver and don’t know how this happened.”

Courtesy image

Just 10 days ago Ark Valley Voice reported on a pair of rear-end crashes involving first responders working “post-crash care” at two sites on major highways in Metro Denver. The Colorado State Patrol (CSP) has issued a polite but firm reminder, that the 2005 “Move Over and Slow Down Law” is there to protect you the public as well as the first responders, tow truck operators, Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) crews, and finally, the CSP troopers.

These are people who risk their lives for you while trying to ensure your safety and get you the help that you need and everyone on their way again.

CSP and CDOT press conference asks for the public’s help

On Friday afternoon, Jan. 27, the Colorado State Patrol and CDOT held a joint press conference to spread the word beyond what they post on social media and ask for the public’s help. It’s an “alarming trend this year; already a substantial increase in ‘struck by incidents'”, said Major Darce Weil of CSP District 1, referring to drivers ramming into first responders working the scene of an existing accident.

In both of the recent incidents, drivers ignored visual warnings up to half a mile ahead of the existing crash site. They attempted to pass other vehicles, entered a toll lane or an inside breakdown lane and found themselves in the restricted crash site area. Warnings included brightly lit directional arrows atop patrol cars, CDOT LED billboards, safety cones and even a CDOT Safety Patrol truck. In one incident, the Safety Patrol truck itself was struck, injuring the operator and requiring transport to the hospital.

CSP Trooper describes how he narrowly avoided being a crash victim himself

One of two Colorado State Patrol vehicles hit by motorists in January, 2023. The trooper was assisting a motorist in trouble on the highway. Image curtest of the CSP.

An incident was recounted firsthand at the press conference by the CSP Trooper whose vehicle was rammed from behind. Fortunately, Trooper Cameron Gill was outside his vehicle making a report and he avoided injury — this time.

Only nine months out of the CSP Academy, Gill described it as a “jaw-dropping” reminder of his training “to keep his head always on a swivel, looking 360 degrees at all times.” “Danger is not just inside a vehicle when making a contact, but can be outside, such as cars [approaching].”

Due to this one driver ignoring the advance warnings, the resulting second crash ended up blocking not only Lane 1 but Lane 2, selfishly delaying hundreds of fellow motorists behind it, even longer.

CDOT Deputy Director of Operations Bob Fifer added a perspective from his crews, saying that in addition to the usual hiring challenges they face, that existing employees and job seekers have a real fear of what injuries they may encounter working on the highways in all types of weather, day and night. He added that a major cause for these incidents is distracted driving, coupled with excessive speed.

Drivers need to realize that in a faction of a second, attention diverted by talking on a cell phone, turning to speak to a child or passenger, or fiddling with the vehicle’s navigation/entertainment is all that it takes to get into trouble that drivers can’t pull out of. To heed the law, one first has to focus on driving and being in control of the auto, which can become a deadly, (un)guided missile. If you’re paying attention and obeying the law, then “moving over and slowing down”, in time to avoid disaster is possible.

Major Weil said that even though the latest two incidents resulted in only minor injuries and a destroyed patrol car, that it was just “pure luck”. When asked how severe injury or loss of a first responder feels, he replied “it impacts us for a lifetime…many of us have known or worked with them.  We will live with it for the rest of our lives, as will the families of all the other accident victims.”

These crashes are fully avoidable; saving lives, and avoiding totaling your vehicle (or others). It’s also smart to not get hit with a steep ticket or penalty points. Drivers should be aware that CSP troopers have a very low tolerance for these incidents. They are not likely to let you off with a warning, especially in winter weather.

It’s not just Metro Denver highways where we’re all at risk – out here in Central Colorado, it’s our dark, rural two lanes, US 50 and US 285 that are especially dangerous.

It’s as bad out here (or worse) in Central Colorado – what to do?

If you see flashing lights (of any color), flares, orange triangles, or cones; pay attention — you’re cautioned to slow down immediately and move over a lane, if safe to do so. If there’s no safe way to move over a whole lane then slow to a crawl until you pass with as much room to spare as you can. The lives you save may be those of your own family or of someone who’s only trying to keep us all safe.

The video of the press conference is here. It is just 18 minutes and spoken from the heart, asking for your help. It’s worth a replay, especially for newer drivers or those who seem to be “always in a hurry”.

Featured image: Colorado State Patrol Joint press conference with Colorado Department of Transportation. Left to right, Bob Fifer, CDOT Deputy Dir. of Operations, CSP Trooper Cameron Gill, CSP Major Darce Weil. Image courtesy YouTube.