November 2017

Grand Rapids Area Expedited Towing Program and Enhanced Incident Response

Kent County Road Commission among the Partners

Winner of a National Roadway Safety Award

Michigan was awarded 1 of 9 National Roadway Safety Awards on November 15 in Washington, D.C. The awards, a biennial competition which began in 1999, are a partnership of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Roadway Safety Foundation. They acknowledge successful approaches to improving roadway safety at the state and local level.

The Safety Problem: A spike in vehicles striking fire department vehicles responding to crash scenes in the Grand Rapids area, and challenging freeway layouts that make providing advance notice to motorists difficult

The Solution: A multi-agency Traffic Incident Management (TIM) partnership that yielded new strategies for shielding and clearing crash scenes, including a crash attenuator truck and expedited towing

The Result: 31% reduction in tow truck response time, reduction in vehicles striking fire apparatus, and a 45% decrease in secondary crashes

Highway safety is a major concern not only for motorists, but also for the men and women that respond to unplanned traffic incidents. In less than 1 year in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area, there were 3 separate incidents involving a vehicle striking a fire department truck that had responded to a crash scene.

Grand Rapids Fire Chief John Lehman accepted the award.

L-R: Gregory Cohen, PE, Roadway Safety Foundation Executive Director; Chief John Lehman; Brandye Hendrickson, FHWA Acting Administrator; and Beth Alicandri, FHWA Associate Administrator for Safety.


A strong Traffic Incident Management Team (TIM) has been formed in the city of Grand Rapids to increase highway safety for everyone during emergency traffic incident responses on freeways. Partners on this team include representatives from the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), Grand Rapids Police & Fire Departments, Michigan State Police, Kent County Road Commission, and the City of Grand Rapids. Over the past 6 years, this coalition has been able to successfully implement various innovative and unique initiatives to minimize first responders’ exposure to traffic, and to reduce backups, delays, and secondary crashes associated with unplanned incidents on freeways.

The specific strategies that this team has established include the creation and deployment of the nation’s first crash blocking vehicle used by a fire department, which is a modified city dump truck affixed with a crash attenuator. Additionally, the team developed and installed sight distance parking signs for first responders, and implemented high visibility markings on water standpipes along the freeway to facilitate their immediate location by responders. Instant Dispatch Towing has also been implemented, wherein tow trucks are immediately called to the scene of a wreck at the same time that other emergency vehicles are summoned.

This combination of initiatives has resulted in a 31% decrease in the time it takes tow trucks to arrive on scene, and a reduction in the average number of vehicles striking an on-scene fire apparatus from one per year to zero in the last two years. These efforts have made a positive impact on not only the safety and mobility of motorists travelling along the freeways within Grand Rapids, but have also been extremely beneficial for the men and women that risk their lives on the highways when responding to crashes.

"These awards recognize real and innovative solutions to some of the nation's biggest safety challenges," said Acting Federal Highway Administrator Brandye L. Hendrickson. "We commend this year's winners for their efforts in saving lives on our nation's roads, and invite others across the country to put these life-saving solutions to work."

Read the List of Winners and details on their roadway safety innovations.

This year's judges were from a variety of disciplines.

King W. Gee, Director of Engineering andTechnical Services, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials
Mike Griffith, Director, FHWA's Office of Safety Technologies
Bruce Hamilton, Director of Safety and Research Programs, Roadway Safety Foundation
Bernardo Kleiner, Senior Program Officer/Transportation Safety Specialist, Transportation Research Board
Jennifer Smith, Director, Image and Brands, Michelin
Dr. Marie Walsh, Director, Louisiana Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP)
Terecia Wilson, Senior Fellow, Clemson University Institute for Global Road Safety and Security

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