This is the first of a three-part series on what can be done about long delays caused by accidents.
A fiery fatal crash last week left the eastbound collector lanes of the busiest highway in North America — feeding one of the largest cities on the continent — for nearly 13 hours.
Traffic was snarled from around 9:30 p.m. on Aug. 11 to around 10:30 a.m. the following morning, as Hwy. 401’s eastbound lanes around Dixie Rd. in Mississauga were blocked following the collision involving a Corvette, a Mazda and what ended up to be a burned out shell of a truck.
In Ontario, there’s not an effective time-oriented coordinated plan among first responders to clear roads after accidents.
Collision studies show a long highway closure can even initiate a domino effect of secondary crashes, often more severe and deadly than the initial accident.
During last week’s crash, several motorists driving at highway speeds nearly hit OPP officers when they were investigating the tragic mishap, which killed two people.
Beyond the most critical issue of life and death, there’s the major monetary cost of slower cleanup. The C.D. Howe Institute estimated the cost of congestion for the GTA and Hamilton could be costing upwards of $11 billion annually.
Then there’s the headache for motorists stuck in long lines of traffic.
One need only look to Florida to find a jurisdiction which clears highways more effectively than Ontario. For close to 20 years, Florida has had a government policy that strives to get accidents cleared in 90 minutes or less.
90 Minutes to Clear
In Florida, government-approved clean-up crews receive bonuses if they clear a crash site within 90 minutes. The precious time spent for cleanup has been reduced to an average time of 67 minutes — the total incident time takes an average of two hours and 45 minutes, says a 2016-17 report from the Florida Department of Transportation.
The reason Florida’s Rapid Incident Scene Clearance is so effective is that licensed cleanup crews only get paid US$2,500 if they clear a crash site in 90 minutes or less. Take over 180 minutes and they’re fined $10 per minute.
First responders are also instructed by the Florida transporation department to have the goal of activating the cleanup crew as fast as possible.
Because towing companies are designated by the government and on a line-up list, there is not the same wild west of tow-trucks circling crash scenes like motorists can find on Ontario highways.
Here, it’s not uncommon to see as many as six or seven tow truckers swarming a scene of a crash like vultures. The towing competition is so fierce in Ontario that Discovery Canada has a reality show devoted to the phenomenon — Heavy Rescue: 401.
Not only does the tow-truck wild west waste precious time in getting the road cleared, while also making the scene more dangerous, it also encourages rubberneckers to gawk, compounding congestion.
Road Rangers Save Lives
In Florida, when a driver gets in a jam on the highway — e.g. flat tire, runs out of gas, engine trouble — road rangers come to the rescue.
Instead of calling up roadside assistance like CAA, Floridians call “*FHP” and rangers patrolling all major parts of the interstate rush to the scene to lend a hand.
They have all the equipment — like car jacks and jerry cans of gas — to get drivers out of a quick bind. On top of that, the backs of their trucks are equipped with a large arrow signs to direct cars away from the driver in potential peril.
And all of this is free, or rather, covered by taxpayers.
Yes, American governments do offer some government assistance Canadian counterparts don’t, especially when they see the benefits of saving lives, time and economic productivity far outweighing the all-too-real costs of lives, time and money.