As you travel this holiday season, it’s possible you’ll see a vehicle stranded somewhere on a freeway.
Hopefully, you won’t be the one stalled on a major roadway. But what should you do if it happens?
The California Highway Patrol recommends that you try to steer your car out of traffic lanes. Call for help and keep your seat belts on as you wait in the car, said Rafael Cervantez, a spokesman for the CHP’s valley division.
Standing, walking or pushing a vehicle are never safe activities near a highway, he said.
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“I would rather get hit sitting in my car with the seat belt on,” Cervantez said.
Forty-one people were killed in California last year while either working on or standing near a disabled vehicle, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. More than two-thirds of those accidents occurred on a freeway.
A Nov. 12 accident in downtown Sacramento has weighed heavily on the minds of local residents in recent days. Around 2:35 a.m., a good Samaritan named Mark Poss was struck by a suspected drunken driver who slammed into Poss and another man pushing a stalled vehicle down the 15th Street offramp from the eastbound W/X freeway.
The suspect, Jacob Olson, was arraigned last week on two felony charges related to drunken driving that caused injury.
A GoFundMe campaign for Poss, the father of a 1 1/2 year old, raised over $140,000 as of Wednesday. Family and friends say Poss was following his good-natured instincts to help someone who ran out of gas.
“It’s so unfortunate that people’s lives are affected because people make bad choices,” Jennifer Martinez, Poss’ supervisor at Genentech, said last week. “We have to stop people from drinking and driving.”
Longtime tow-truck driver Douglas Nelson said the scenario was a tough one for Poss and the stranded pair. The elevated W/X freeway has narrow shoulders and a flurry of cars switching lanes. And the vehicle stall occurred not long after last call at many bars.
“That is just a very unsafe situation,” Nelson said. “No good deed goes unpunished.”
Nelson, vice president of College Oak Towing, said that every six days a tow-truck driver is killed in the line of towing, citing national figures. “One every six days. That is a huge number.”
In 2015, a good Samaritan died trying to help motorists whose car ran out of gas on Interstate 80 west of Norwood Avenue in Sacramento. He was able to deliver a gas can. But just after he got inside his stopped car, he was fatally struck from behind.
While many advise motorists to wait in a vehicle, Nelson said he would personally try to find safe ground as far away from the road and car if possible.
“I would leave the vehicle,” he said. “I would not stay in the vehicle. I see too many vehicles that are rear-ended.”
He said there are several other options, such as positioning a second vehicle with its hazard lights on or using signal flares. But there are no options inside or outside a stranded vehicle that are completely safe. Tow trucks have flashers and still are at tremendous risk.
He added that he believes the CHP could do more to enforce the “move-over law,” which requires motorists to slow down and change lanes to give safe clearance to law enforcement, tow trucks and other emergency vehicles.
John Moreno, a spokesman for AAA, said the auto service generally advises motorists to stay in their vehicles to wait for service. He said it’s not AAA’s policy to give gas to non-members, but added that AAA technicians will act to keep those on the highway safe.