Anatomy of an Accident: The George Washington Bridge

By Rudy King, Public Information Officer

We can assume that if you’ve ever driven anywhere in the New York/New Jersey region, at some point you’ve sat behind the wheel of your car experiencing a range of emotions . . . from impatience . . . to anger . . . to downright outrage at traffic that creeps along at the breakneck clip of a tortoise.

While understandable, emotional meltdowns behind the wheel are dangerous because they can boil over into traffic accidents on bridges, roadways and inside tunnels – causing everything from minor fender benders to episodes of road rage to major incidents involving fatalities.

The next time you find yourself in traffic gridlock, a general understanding of the different types of accidents and possible emergency responses may help to soothe your frayed nerves.

It would be misleading to attribute most accidents to emotionally-impaired drivers.  Because in addition to such obvious culprits as texting or drunk driving, there are a host of underlying reasons for crashes:  potholes, slick road surfaces, poor lighting, lack of or poor signage, and one of the most underrated problems, vehicle merges at toll plazas and roadways.

The good news is that safety programs like the Port Authority’s nationally-recognized Traffic Safety Improvement Program, have decreased the number of motor vehicle crashes at Port Authority facilities overall by more than a third or 36 percent since 2000.

The objective of the program is to minimize the frequency, severity, and risk of motor vehicle crashes on the Port Authority roadway system by strategically focusing attention and resources on those areas where the data indicates the problems are the greatest.

Here’s the general breakdown on what happens when an accident occurs at a Port Authority facility like the George Washington Bridge, America’s busiest bridge.  In all cases, the emergency response begins with capturing the event on camera and notifying the facility’s Communications Desk.  Accidents are handled in four different ways depending on the severity of the event:

  1. The Fender Bender or Side Swipe Accident Causing Minimal Traffic Delay

 Since the incident is minor, the involved vehicles are driven to a safe and secure location, and normal traffic flow is resumed.  The Port Authority Police Department (PAPD) speaks with the drivers, records statements and files the report.

  1. The Disabled Vehicle or Truck with Moderate Traffic Delay

 The PAPD is responsible for moving disabled vehicles.  If the vehicle can’t be moved immediately, traffic lanes are closed while the vehicle is removed.  The closed lanes are re-opened to normal traffic flow once the lane is clear.

  1. Truck/Car Crash or Multiple Cars or Truck Jackknife with Severe Damage/ Fire with Significant Traffic Delays, Lane Closures and Alternative Routes

 Under such circumstances, Tunnels and Bridges Agents (TBAs) are trained and equipped as emergency first responders.  They extinguish vehicular fires and perform extractions if a person is trapped inside the vehicle.  They work closely with PAPD, fire departments and neighboring hospitals.

  1. Truck/Car Crash or Multiple Cars with Serious Injuries and/or FatalitiesSignificant Traffic Delays – Alternate Route Suggested Due To Lane Closures and Accident Investigation/Scene Preservation

In addition to the actions above, PAPD will determine whether an accident investigation is necessary and will ensure that the investigation scene is preserved.

According to national highway statistics, a car accident occurs every minute of the day around the world and kills a child every three minutes. So the next time you are sitting in traffic, remember to take a deep breath and be patient because yours or someone else’s life may depend on it.

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