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Fender bender on the freeway? Take the next exit if you can

A simple fender bender can lead to significant delays, traffic backups that last for miles and create a secondary safety hazard for anyone arriving on the crash. The Utah Highway Patrol reminded drivers on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016, that if they are involved
A simple fender bender can lead to significant delays, traffic backups that last for miles and create a secondary safety hazard for anyone arriving on the crash. The Utah Highway Patrol reminded drivers on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016, that if they are involved in a fender bender that does not involve injuries, they need to move their vehicles off the freeway, if they can.
Mark Wetzel, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — With expectations of the first snowstorm this week, the Utah Highway Patrol wants drivers to have the right plan of action in mind if they get in a crash on the freeway.

A simple fender bender can lead to significant delays, traffic backups that last for miles and create a secondary safety hazard for anyone arriving on the crash.

“It’s your instinct. If you’re involved in a crash, you want to stop the car and get out and inspect the damage,” Utah Department of Transportation spokesman John Gleason said. “That’s exactly the wrong thing that you should do on the freeway, because you are creating these major delays, and you’re also putting yourself and other people at risk.”

When drivers involved in an accident don't move off the road, traffic jams back up significantly, officials said.

“(Other motorists) are hitting their brakes. There may be debris as the result of the crash (and) they’re trying to avoid that,” said Col. Michael Rapich, superintendent of the Utah Highway Patrol.

Motorists also are trying to avoid cars still on the interstate, creating "a very hazardous situation right where that crash occurred,” Rapich said.

It can also be incredibly frustrating for anyone who is stuck behind a crash, especially a fender bender.

“The amount of time that’s wasted sitting in traffic, all of that could be avoided if the person would just drive off to the next exit,” Gleason said. “Our goal is to keep traffic moving as much as possible and to keep people safe.”

This year, UHP has moved 38 percent of crashes — more than 5,200 — off the road.

"As soon as you're involved in the crash, you're moving over to the shoulder. If you can do so, just keep moving. Take the next exit. Call 911. You'll be in touch with the dispatcher. Let them know where the crash occurred and where you have moved to,” Rapich said.

State law allows motorists involved in crashes that do not involve injuries to move their vehicles to a safe location. UHP says the shoulder of the road is not a safe place to stay.

If the drivers can’t get off the highway, they are advised to stay in their vehicles until help arrives.

"If you're involved in a crash, especially on the Wasatch Front, if you have the ability to move your vehicle off to a safe location, please do so,” Rapich said.

Troopers can take the report and make sure everyone involved is safe.

“We can still determine what occurred, even if those vehicles are moved,” UHP Sgt. Anthony Carrubba said.

A crash, even moved to the shoulder, backs up traffic as though two lanes are blocked, according to Gleason, which can really make a huge difference during commute times.

“Whether it’s a minor fender bender or even something more serious, if you can get your car off the road, especially during inclement weather, it’s best to do so,” Carrubba said.

Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc

Email: jboal@deseretnews.com