Crashes and Highway Closures: Why the Delay?

When any BC highway is closed due to a crash, some of the questions and comments we get are:

“Why is it taking so long to open the road?”

“Don’t you just take some pictures and move the vehicles to the side?”

“Surely you can open one lane; there are lots of people waiting.”

These are good questions, but unfortunately it’s not that simple. When there is likelihood there may be criminal charges or someone is killed or seriously injured in the crash, the police close the road. And for good reason; this stretch of road may be a crime scene that needs to be investigated.

Here’s a look at our role, the RCMP’s role and your role when closures due to crashes happen. Keep in mind, every incident is different, and the response doesn’t always follow the same sequence. Usually, the initial management is by the first responder (police, ambulance and/or firefighters) until the protocols below fall into place.

 Our Role – Managing Traffic Flow and Communicating

  1. Initial response: The incident is reported and first responders and our maintenance contractor arrive on the scene. The first responder calls for any further assistance, eg. Jaws of Life, Search and Rescue. The responders and maintenance contractor assess the severity of the crash and determine which agency will take charge of the site.
  2. Assess incident and implement traffic management: Our ministry and maintenance contractor staff assess the incident to determine:
    • How to protect emergency crews while they work.
    • If traffic can or should be directed to an alternative route.
    • If the highway can be re-opened either completely or with partial traffic flow (decided in consultation with police and other emergency staff).
    • Information required for motorists in the vicinity. For example, traffic control personnel may walk the line of traffic to advise stopped drivers of the incident, or set up signage to divert drivers away from the site.
    • What information may be needed for the broader public, via DriveBC, changeable message signs and media outlets.
    • What is needed for the well-being and safety of stopped motorists. In extreme situations, where the closure may be extra lengthy, we provide food, water and portable toilets for travellers.
    • Upon completion of this assessment, the maintenance contractor sets up a traffic management plan, and puts traffic control people and equipment to work.
  3. Reopen the route: Once the senior ranking first responder advises that their investigation is complete, debris and traffic control equipment are removed.

The RCMP’s Role – The Investigation
(Information provided by Cpl. Darren Lagan – Island District RCMP)

Crash sites are potential crime scenes, where possible negligent or criminal actions led to someone’s life being altered in the blink of an eye. The RCMP has a legal and ethical responsibility to thoroughly investigate every vehicle crash, to ensure the causes are determined, fault is identified, charges are laid (if appropriate), and that all evidence is accurately documented.

Each crash scene is unique, presenting its own challenges to first responders, investigators and road maintenance crews; so closure times vary. In more remote areas like Northern BC, it may take some time for RCMP and other emergency personnel to arrive, as they travel long distances.

Securing the site: When the first emergency responder arrives at a crash site, their primary focus is to ensure the safety of those at the scene, and establish a safe work zone for arriving emergency crews. This may include stopping or redirecting traffic, and relaying vital information to incoming personnel.

Caring for victims: We identify who has been injured or killed, and if they need to be extricated from the wreckage, we assist fire/rescue crews in performing this dangerous and difficult task. At the same time, medical crews work to care for the crash victims. Getting people to hospital can be complex and time consuming, depending on the crash location and traffic congestion.

If there is a fatality, police notify the BC Coroners Service who come to the scene, investigate the death, establish the victim’s identity and coordinate care of the victim’s remains.

Examining the scene: In a critical injury or fatal crash, the RCMP call for one of their traffic analyst/re-constructionist officers. These experts gather evidence that focuses on factors that caused the crash. This involves extensive physical observation and detailed documentation which includes:

  • capturing a complex photographic record of the scene and detailed measurements
  • examining the affected road surface (often tens or hundreds of metres in length) for tire marks and crash debris, which is then plotted and recorded
  • observing and documenting the specific location of and damage to the vehicles involved
  • analyzing the location of victims, relative to the vehicles involved

These officers only get one chance at this work. Once they release the scene, and the vehicle salvage and road maintenance crews begin their clean up, the scene ceases to exist as it was originally found – meaning any overlooked evidence is forever altered and of diminished value.

The meticulous work of analyst/re-constructionist officers and first responders is necessary should a criminal charge be laid; the courts require a high standard of evidence. Family and friends want to know why their loved one is dead. Survivors and their families will seek answers about why the crash happened, and who is responsible. Work at the crash scene, enables the RCMP to provide those answers.

Your Role – Please be Patient

We ask that you please be patient in these circumstances. We’re certainly not trying to ruin your plans or stop you from getting where you need to be, but safety and your mobility are our biggest priorities (in that order) and although you may not see us, we’re working hard to make sure you can get where you’re going. We do thank you and appreciate your understanding in times like these.

To help you, we work to share incident information as quickly as we can, through the DriveBC website (and mobile site), highway cams, Twitter (DriveBC and TranBC), RSS alerts (Really Simple Syndication which automatically delivers information to a computer or mobile device) and informing the local media, so you can make your travelling decisions based on the current situation.

We recognize there is frustration and inconvenience for travellers when our provincial roads and highways are closed during police investigations. We are committed to working with provincial policing agencies and our other incident-response partners, to reduce the duration of highway closures after crashes and other serious incidents.

So, now that we’ve answered your most-asked questions about highway closures and crashes, we hope that you have a better understanding of what’s involved. Please let us know if you have any other questions.

20 comments on “Crashes and Highway Closures: Why the Delay?”

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  1. Why is a highway closed for 7-8 hours when a single vehicle rollover occurs and there are no injuries? Yesterday highway 97 A was closed or had restricted traffic for more than 7 hours due to a highway truck and trailer rollover that blocked the highway. No injuries…what the hell is going on?
    You cannot tell me there is not egos involved here. Get the damn road cleared and open ASAP. You cannot convince me there was a reason for this length of delay.

    • Hi Patrick – thanks for your comment and we understand your concern. During any extended closure on BC Highways, our focus is to get the road open as quickly as possible. We shared your comment with our local area staff who let us know that, in this instance, a crane needed to be called in to right the trailer as it was fully loaded. The trailer boogies were ripped off and needed to be loaded onto another trailer. This was a very intensive recovery and our staff worked very hard to get the road re-open. We confirmed that detours were in place (northbound via Highway 97B to the Trans-Canada Highway, and southbound via the Trans-Canada Highway to Highway 97B). We hope that this helps answer your question. If you have any other questions or concerns, let us know. Thanks again.

  2. Flaggers are terribly mistreated by large numbers of drivers. My sister has been spat on, had food thrown at her, had people deliberately try and hit her with their car. She is there to keep workers and drivers safe. She works long hours with little pay in high heat and freezing cold. She is kind to people, helps them get through if they have an emergency or special need and yet she is frequently treated as if she is just trying to mess up a driver’s day. If that’s the kind of driver you are you should be taking a bus and getting anger management classes. She and first responders often suffer from ptsd because of what they’ve seen and dealt with as well.

  3. Do they need to do a CEO episode each time? Put hundreds of people late for work and all the idling for that wait? How about pollution? We would think that things are improving and take less time, not for you guys.

    • Hi Isabelle,

      When a crash closes the highway, we do everything we can to get the highway back open and to inform those impacted by the closure. Unfortunately, once the highway has been re-opened, the responders lose the ability to go back and get an accurate picture for their records. This will help the victims of the crash moving forward. We don’t keep the highway closed to make things difficult, although we do appreciate that it can be.

  4. Multiply tens of thousands of motorists, each with needs, commitments and financialiability. Got it? Good. Now pay a special assessment team $1000 per hour each, fly them in via helicopter and do an exhaustive couple of hours research on cause, then get the trucks in to get the debris off the highway.
    C’mon. Anything other smacks of an ego by someone thinking they can put the public on hold for 10 hours.
    You may not appreciate the impact on those being affected but it is substantial.

    • Hi AM – thanks for connecting with us here and sharing your concerns. We recognize the frustration and inconvenience for travellers when our provincial roads and highways are closed during investigations and we are thankful to everyone for their patience when serious crashes occur. After an incident like this, emergency responders have a big job to do and it can’t (and shouldn’t) be rushed. They need to get the whole picture of the incident captured and cleaned up in order to re-open the road. These officers only get one chance at this work. Once they release the scene, it ceases to exist as it was originally found – which means that any overlooked evidence is forever altered and of diminished value. In other words, this isn’t a case of ego at play. It’s making sure we do the right thing for those whose lives may have been altered forever as a result of a serious incident such as this. We’re sure you would want the same level of scrutiny if you or your loved ones were involved in such an incident. We hope that this helps clarify your concern, if you have any other questions, please let us know. Thanks again and safe travels.

  5. The interaction first responders are called to have the public does not necessarily include having to answer questions posed by nosy morons poking into things that are None of Their Business. I sincerely hope that there is found a way to charge idiot motorists that charge through accident zones and harass first responders.

  6. Where is it written that those involved in an accident have the right to disrupt the livesof everyone else? What happens if one of those “asked to be patient” is a pregnant mother being taken down to Victoria General needing a C-section, someone who will now miss the specialist appointment they have been waiting for since last spring, a diabetic on the way home to get her insulin, an offender who will miss his parole review, a non-custodial parent trying to avoid losing access due to yet another late return to the ex-spouse…. etc. etc. – the list goes on. The more the number people that are delayed to focus on the needs of one individual the more the risk of harm to someone else rises (… and lets not talk about missing ferries and air flights).

    • Those involved in the accident disrupting people’s lives? Yeah… because the girl driving home from school who gets crushed by the street racer meant to disrupt your life. Wow… gotta shake my head at you and your kind of thinking. Arguing semantics is the ploy of someone who has no argument… so they have to come up with a bunch of “what if’s”. You just bought yourself a karma ticket buddy.

  7. Don’t ask questions? Is this Nazi Germany? Sorry but a big part of any first responder’s job is dealing with the public and being accountable. That obviously doesn’t excuse the public to act like idiots but hey it’s a two way street.

    • As I see it authorities have two responsibilities when an accident occurs. One is to render timely medical assistance to the injured, and the other is to get the roadway open again as soon as possible–nothing else! Roadways are the lifeblood of our economy and must be kept open for a number of reasons, as ably mentioned by Telford Platt, above. Taking hours to examine the scene just to assign blame once the injured have been removed, is ridiculous. In this particular case improvements to the Malahat are already in the works, so further analysis is counterproductive, and does no good. Also, folks who are being influenced by the delay have every right to know why there is a delay and how long it will last, so they can alter their plans accordingly. People would be more patient if they were properly informed.

  8. Please do not ask questions to the people doing their jobs. They don’t have time for that in many case and be kind to the flaggers, they also are only doing their job and can’t give you any information that has not yet been released. Drive safely, don’t speed and drive for the conditions.

  9. People when you come up to accident scene don’t interfere and ask stupid questions. Let everyone do the job they have been trained to do. Be kind to all, especially the flaggers. they are all just doing a job and don’t need you slowing them down.

  10. As a first responder it is really hard to answer any questions with certainty regarding the status of victims involved in a crash, or when the road will reopen. Some motorists don’t seem to realize all the factors that are involved, thank you for adding this detailed description.

  11. My biggest complaint….. the idiots that RUSH off and cause or almost cause further incidents by passing when it’s not safe etc., etc.

  12. As a flagger one question I HATE getting asked is “is somebody dead”. First, I am not supposed to tell the public information that hasn’t been officially released. Second, I often don’t know for certain. Third, it happens too often.