For motorists involved in a spinout or crash on the freeway, the instinct is to get out to assess the damage and take photos for insurance purposes. But drivers should resist the temptation and stay inside the vehicle, says Lt. Tiffani Nielson of the State Patrol.
A video released by the Department of Public Safety shows how vulnerable crash victims can be. The driver and passenger of a vehicle were standing on the right shoulder of an icy Interstate 94 in downtown St. Paul in the area known as Spaghetti Junction after their car spun out and landed in a snowbank. That's when a second vehicle hit a concrete wall, skidded across three lanes of traffic and plowed into their car. The two ran for their lives and narrowly escaped injury.
"They were so lucky," Nielson said. "You don't have protection once you're outside the vehicle. People don't realize how dangerous freeways are. Cars moving at 60 to 70 miles per hour [that] lose traction will continue to move until they hit something else."
Injuries to people who leave their cars on busy roadways are all too common, she said. A property damage crash can quickly escalate into something more serious.
"Think about your safety first," she said. "Most people want to get out and take photographs."
Nielson said the safest thing to do is to stay in the vehicle and move to the passenger side if possible, to allow for more cushioning should the vehicle be struck by a passing motorist. If a vehicle is drivable, move it as far off the road as possible, such as onto a concrete pad under an overpass or to an off-ramp that has slower-moving traffic.
It's common to believe that vehicles involved in a crash should be left in position to allow police to investigate and make a report, Nielson said. That's true in cases of fatal and serious injury crashes, but for property damage crashes, the best thing to do is move to a safe area.
"If it is a rear-end crash, we can determine when and where it happened" based on the damage and accounts from witnesses, Nielson said. "They don't need to freeze their vehicle at the scene."
The Department of Public Safety used the video to remind motorists to respect winter road conditions by slowing down, increasing following distance, allowing plenty of travel time and not using cruise control.
It also reminded drivers to be sober behind the wheel as extra patrols will be out over the New Year's weekend looking for drunken drivers.