City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen plans to introduce legislation to require that drivers who can safely move their vehicles after a crash do so. That’s state law, but local officials want to underscore the need to clear roads quickly after a collision.

Share story

Although it’s state law, Seattle could soon see its own legislation requiring drivers to get their banged-up cars out of the traffic lanes after a collision, to save everyone else from delays and the threat of secondary crashes.

City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, who chairs the Transportation Committee, said he will introduce legislation early this month to require that drivers who can safely move their vehicles after a crash do so, and to affirm that police may push or tow stopped vehicles, without fear of liability, as permitted in state law.

“People have to safely move these out of the way. They can’t sit there and bicker about who caused that rear-ender,” Rasmussen said.

Steer it, clear it

Seattle is considering a city version of a state law, signed by Gov. Gary Locke in 2002, requiring drivers to move dented vehicles off the road if possible:

“The driver of any vehicle involved in an accident resulting only in damage to a vehicle which is driven or attended by any person or damage to other property must move the vehicle as soon as possible off the roadway or freeway main lanes, shoulders, medians, and adjacent areas to a location on an exit ramp shoulder, the frontage road, the nearest suitable cross street, or other suitable location … Moving the vehicle in no way affects fault for an accident.”

Source: RCW 46.52.020; House Bill 2345.

The new emphasis on clearing wrecks was inspired by a March 24 incident in which a toppled truckload of frozen cod blocked the southbound viaduct for nine hours. A 62-page report issued by national experts last month said Seattle lacked policies and a sense of urgency to clear traffic incidents.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks

The “steer it, clear it” law has been on the books in Washington state since 2002. Signs appear along highways. Other states have similar laws.

“We believe the city has the ability to do ‘steer it, clear it’ right now,” said Annette Sandberg, a former chief of the Washington State Patrol and co-author of the expert study. But to avoid confusion, she urges the city to pass its own law.

Currently, some drivers feel obligated to freeze in place, to photograph evidence and exchange identifications for an insurance claim.

The city needs an outreach program, said Sandberg.

Other reforms involve police retraining, new towing contracts, and hazmat cleanup equipment for street workers, changes that because of the cost involved, may not begin until 2016.

Elected officials decided to start now with low-cost changes.

“Before this review, we prioritized private property over traffic. It is now the policy of the city to prioritize traffic over private property,” Mayor Ed Murray told reporters Friday. “That policy change, in and of itself, will have a dramatic effect on how we respond to accidents and how we ensure that the people of this city can move through and around the city.”