Situational Awareness on the Roadway

Highway1There have been several recent incidents where responders have been struck by vehicles while working on roadway incidents. The roadway is one of the more dangerous work environments we operate in because conditions can go from being totally benign to total chaos in just a matter of seconds.


The Roadway Mindset

When operating on the roadway, our minds should always be on the drivers who, for one reason or another, don’t seem to see us or are hell-bent on getting through the accident scene because they can’t be inconvenienced with a delay. There are multiple plausible explanations as to why drivers hit emergency vehicles and first responders, including:

  1. General inattentiveness
  2. Visual impairment
  3. Ill or infirmed
  4. Distracted
  5. Texting
  6. Talking on a cell phone
  7. Performing other activities while driving
  8. Impairment (drugs or alcohol)
  9. Fatigue
  10. Ice
  11. Hydroplane
  12. Gawking
  13. Blinded by bright lights

Take a long look at that list. There are so many factors that could contribute to a motorist endangering a responder that our guard should never be down.

Protecting Your Operating Position

postcard1The best thing a crew can do is put themselves in a defensive position by using vehicles to block the roadway. This may not be a popular with some law enforcement officers. Remember that police officers have an obligation to keep traffic flowing and, in some respects, keeping traffic flowing can improve safety and reduce the likelihood of a secondary incident upstream. However, the safety of responders should never take secondary priority to keeping traffic flowing.


Blocking May Not be Enough

Even when large apparatus with warning lights active are blocking a scene, civilian vehicles can still strike the apparatus and endanger the responders. It is important to keep in mind that until traffic has been stopped upstream, responders are vulnerable.

The highest and often most complex part of situational awareness development is being able to predict the future. When you look at the list of potential contributing factors above, the potential for a highway incident becomes highly probably. Be mindful and vigilant when you are on the roadway. At any given time there are drivers… many drives… affected by the list of contributors that result in responder-victim roadway accidents.


The mission of Situational Awareness Matters is simple: Help first responders see the bad things coming… in time to change the outcome.

Safety begins with SA! 


Share your comments on this article in the “Leave a Reply” box below. If you want to send me incident pictures, videos or have an idea you’d like me to research and write about, contact me. I really enjoy getting feedback and supportive messages from fellow first responders. It gives me the energy to work harder for you.




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