There’s a reason radio traffic reporters often give out the tip line when giving traffic reports: we want you to call! We realize you have so many other things to do. Not to mention here in California, driving while dialing is illegal (so make sure you have a headset). But trust me when I tell you that I, as a traffic reporter, and especially your fellow motorists, appreciate the first-hand information. If the CHP is telling me an accident is one direction, but a driver calls in and tells me it’s actually the opposite direction, I always trust the caller first.
That being said, there’s a couple of tips I would like to offer:
ALWAYS call First Responders first.
This should be a given, but you’d be surprised. I once had a breathless caller tell me I needed to call someone, *now*. She was shocked by the extreme nature of the accident she had just seen. I tried explaining to her that she should instead call the Highway Patrol, but before I could tell her why, she repeated that I needed to call an ambulance and hung up.
Had she stayed on the line, I would have informed her that she is in a much better position than I to get CHP and ambulance crews to the scene of the accident. She knows where she is and can describe the nearest landmarks, answering dispatcher questions. She can follow the instructions of the dispatcher and possibly save an accident victim’s life. She can give the dispatcher first-hand information.
Luckily, the accident the woman thought was a major-injury accident turned out to be a non-injury accident. But when we’re talking about life and death situations, you can’t really play around. I don’t blame her; I think the poor caller was slightly in a state of shock at witnessing the accident, and probably thought traffic reporters are in direct contact with emergency responders and can contact them faster (we aren’t and we can’t).
There are a couple of obvious exceptions to the “always call first responders first” rule. If you already see first responders on the scene, then obviously CHP has gotten the word. And of course I don’t expect you to call the Highway Patrol when you see a non-injury accident that drivers are handling 911 calls on their own. In either case, we’ll appreciate any and all tips you can give us in order to help other drivers navigate around the safely around the scene, and keep the emergency personal and accident victims safe.
If you just tuned it and I haven’t mentioned your accident or slowdown after one traffic report, please be patient. Here in the Bay Area things can get messy, and that’s putting it mildly. We have the Bay Shore Freeway and the East Shore Freeway, Ignacio Blvd. in Marin County (pronounced ig-NAW-see-oh) and Ygnacio Valley Blvd. in Walnut Creek (pronounced ig-NAY-see-oh). And that’s not counting BART, MUNI, Caltrain, VTA, AC Transit, you get the idea. I’m not saying this to make you feel sorry for me as a traffic reporter, I say it to remind you that as crummy as your commute feels, chances are there’s a motorist in any one of the other nine Bay Area counties who feels the same way. So, I need to be fair, and with most traffic reports having a time limit of a minute long, I can’t get to all of the problems. Many of us try to rotate through. So if you don’t hear your accident, don’t assume we don’t know about it (especially if there are still CHP crews on the scene) or don’t think it’s a problem. We know it is, we’re just trying to be fair. That being said, you’re still always welcome to call and ask us what’s going on instead of waiting until the next traffic report. I do this to my co-workers all the time.
The Bottom line
Whether your favorite station calls you their phone force or their traffic tipsters, you’re an important part of traffic reporting. Your calls are appreciated, and I know firsthand how frustrating it can be sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic, so rest assured my colleagues and I are doing what we can to keep you updated. Be kind to your fellow motorists and follow the laws, and hopefully you can avoid being part of the next traffic report.
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P.S.: I prefer calling 1-800-TELL-CHP instead of 911 for slightly less urgent calls, such as debris in the roadway.