Traffic congestion is a serious and growing problem in Tennessee, especially in the major travel corridors in our metropolitan areas. And, traffic congestion is more than an inconvenience. Consider the value of time to the commuters, truckers, visitors and the other drivers and passengers stuck in traffic. Consider the costs to businesses waiting for critical parts or supplies or waiting for their customers to arrive. Automobiles and trucks stuck in traffic congestion add more pollutants to our air and waste energy. Traffic congestion causes traffic crashes, and traffic congestion aggravates road rage.
So what can we do? State and local governments are working together to expand the capacity of our transportation systems, but new infrastructure alone will not solve the problems associated with congestion.
In analyzing the problems of congestion, two numbers stand out:
- 60% of all freeway congestion is non-recurring, i.e. caused by incidents such as wrecks, debris in the road, disabled vehicles, and not by limited highway capacity.
- 20% of all freeway crashes are “secondary,” occurring because the roadway is blocked by an earlier incident.
In other words, more than half of all backups occur on highway sections where the roadway capacity is adequate under normal circumstances. Further, one out of five freeway crashes happens after a previous incident that is still disrupting traffic flow.
Accordingly, TDOT is giving more attention to "highway incident management," and TDOT is promoting "quick clearance" of highway incidents. The HELP program is probably the most visible result.
The TDOT HELP Program emphasizes quick clearance of congestion-causing accidents on the highways. According to Tennessee law (T.C.A. 55-10-117), when a motor vehicle traffic accident occurs with no apparent serious personal injury or death, the driver of each vehicle involved should remove the vehicle from the roadway whenever the move may be done safely and the vehicle is capable of being normally and safely driven.
National studies have shown that up to 20% of all collisions on controlled access highways are "secondary," attributable to an earlier incident that has not been fully cleared. To help ease traffic congestion, the Tennessee Department of Transportation and the Tennessee Department of Safety have entered into an interagency memorandum of understanding to work together to ensure public safety, promote safe and orderly traffic flow, protect the safety of emergency responders and restore the roadway to full capacity as soon as possible following an incident.
This is part of the TDOT SmartWay plan to address traffic congestion issues. TDOT has placed signs along the state's interstate system and other access controlled highways reminding motorists to move their damaged vehicles to the shoulder if no serious injury has occurred.