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Police offer tips to stay safe on freeways in cases of breakdown

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published April 12, 2017

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TROY — Did you know it is illegal to walk on the freeway? 

But if you break down on the freeway and are forced to pull over onto the shoulder, it’s best if you can safely get out of your car — away from traffic — and move as far away from moving vehicles as possible, maybe to a grassy embankment, then call police, said Troy Police Sgt. Meghan Lehman. 

The Michigan State Police recently offered a number of guidelines to stay safe during different situations on the freeway following an accident in which good Samaritans were struck. According to news reports, Dr. Cynthia Ray died April 5 from injuries she sustained after she and a University of Detroit Jesuit High School student stopped to help at the scene of a crash in which a Jeep had flipped to its side on Interstate 96, near the Davison Freeway, the morning of April 2. Both were struck by a car. 

“The normal inclination is to stop and help. It’s all about assessing the scene to determine if it’s too dangerous to get out,” said Michigan State Police Metro North Post Assistant Cmdr. Lt. Calvin Hart. “Every scene and roadway is different.” 

“Instead of getting out of your vehicle, it may be safer to position your vehicle near the scene, put your flashers on and call police,” Hart said. 

Drivers should be aware that pedestrians may be on the freeway due to crashes, disabled vehicles or other emergency situations. The state police said drivers should approach a scene slowly, move over and use caution to pass. 

If your vehicle breaks down, get it as far off the roadway as possible, turn on your emergency flashers, and remain inside the vehicle with your seat belt on unless you can safely exit to a spot well off the roadway, police said. Do not stand outside the vehicle, walk across the freeway to recover objects, or walk near the roadway. Motorists should purchase a vehicle safety kit with a flashlight and a reflective vest for nighttime incidents. 

“The key is that the kit be ready for use,” Hart said. “Secure it in one spot so you can get to it.” 

If there are no serious injuries and the vehicles are drivable, drivers are required by law to move the vehicles to the shoulder. 

“Get off the road as far as possible,” Lehman said. “Do not call friends or family to respond. They would be putting themselves in danger. Call the police — they will escort you off the freeway.” 

Friends or family can wait for a stranded motorist at a nearby exit once the accident investigation is complete, Hart said. 

Hart and Lehman said drivers can place flares on the roadway to alert other motorists that a vehicle has broken down, if it is safe to do so.

People who encounter someone driving the wrong way should get to the shoulder and stop, and sound the horn and flash their lights to get the individual’s attention, police said. 

Hart said that in the case of wrong-way drivers, “80 to 90 percent of the time, the person is driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. But sometimes it’s an elderly motorist that got lost.” In that situation, drivers should pay attention to what is in front of them and call 911 when it’s safe to do so, Hart said. 

The state police said this is another reason to not travel in the left lane except to pass: Most wrong-way drivers are using the left lane.