December 19, 2011 in City

Getting There: Plow drivers want to keep rescuing slide-offs

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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Spokane County road crew workers want to keep pulling stranded motorists from snowy ditches despite fears by the county’s risk manager that the practice puts the county in jeopardy for possible claims or lawsuits.

“We are not emergency responders,” Risk Manager Steve Bartel told county commissioners last week.

“I cannot recommend that we engage in these activities as a risk manager,” he said.

Plow truck drivers have often pulled motorists from ditches along the many narrow county roads that can be treacherous when icy.

Commissioners acknowledged that the county’s drivers are resisting efforts to curtail their neighborly work. There may be times when someone’s life is in danger when stranded along the road, commissioners said.

During a briefing session, Bartel explained his reasoning. Drivers are not trained to pull people from ditches; the vehicles are not equipped like tow trucks; and the efforts to pull stuck vehicles back onto the road could create a hazard for other drivers, he said.

County trucks do not have winches, hooks, chains or cables suitable for such work, and they are powerful enough that they could cause damage to a smaller vehicle, Bartel said.

Plus, stopping to help a stranded motorist takes plow drivers away from the work of clearing the roads for the public. County employees could also face personal liability, he said.

Commissioners were not persuaded.

So Bartel pulled out a compromise.

He recommended that supervisors get involved in any decision to help and that the motorist getting the help be asked to sign a “hold harmless” waiver. Training for road crew workers is also a good idea, he said.

Commissioner Mark Richard said it was clear that road crew workers want to be able to help.

“We better find a way to protect them and allow them to do it,” he said.

More traveling this year

AAA is forecasting a 1.4 percent increase in the number of Americans traveling 50 miles or more from their homes during the coming holidays. A total of 91 million are expected to hit the roads, rails or skies.

It’s the highest number in five years, AAA said.

Automobiles will carry 83.6 million travelers, up 2.1 percent from last year. Air travel will fall 9.7 percent to 5.4 million.

Nationwide, the average cost of regular gasoline was $3.26 a gallon, compared with about $3.49 last week in Spokane.

Plan to make flying easier

Air travelers should remember the following tips:

• Do not include wrapped packages in checked or carry-on luggage. They will have to be examined.

• Make it quick for curbside drop-offs and pickups to help ease congestion. The driver must stay with the vehicle.

• Check flight status ahead of time and allow extra time.

• Label bags with name and address.

• Limit carry-on bags.

• Move promptly to ticket and security lines.

• Children need proof of age if under 12 and traveling alone or if 2 years or younger and being seated on a lap.

I-90 lanes open

Interstate 90 from Sullivan to Barker roads is now open to three lanes in each direction following widening work that began last spring.

The speed limit, however, is still 50 mph while finishing touches are completed. A portion of the eastbound shoulder is still closed.

Some additional work will be postponed until spring.


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