Every day on California roadways hazardous objects wind up in lanes of traffic. These objects can include such things as Christmas trees, mattresses, tire tread, clothes, garbage, furniture, animals, disabled vehicles and vehicles involved in collisions.
Removing hazards from the roadway is part of a CHP officer’s duties. Therefore, from time to time, you may see an officer driving a patrol vehicle in a zigzag motion, crossing all lanes of the freeway. The CHP refers to this movement as a traffic break.
A traffic break can be accomplished in several ways, such as waiting for a “natural break” in traffic – a gap between vehicles – that allows an officer enough space and time to safely remove an object either by hand, the patrol vehicle’s push bumpers, or by using the patrol vehicle itself to provide protection for another officer removing the hazard.
On freeways this rarely happens. Highways have a heavy flow of traffic and in order to remove hazards, officers must create a full traffic break. Usually one to two miles before reaching the hazard, an officer will pick a spot within traffic and activate the rear lights of the patrol vehicle. The officer will then zigzag across lanes until he/she has the attention of all the vehicles approaching from behind. This zigzag motion is intended to keep the motorists behind the CHP vehicle.
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Many times I have been in our CHP dispatch center when a member of the public calls stating, “There is a CHP officer driving all over the road, he may be drunk.” Although this movement resembles impaired driving, it is in fact a safety maneuver for an officer positioning to remove the hazard.
Once all vehicles are slowed behind the CHP patrol vehicle, the officer will come to a stop and safely remove the object from the roadway. Traffic can then resume normal speed.
As a motorist, please be aware of CHP officers running these types of traffic breaks and stay back at least 300 feet for the officers’ safety and yours. It’s the law. California Vehicle Code Section 21706 states in part no motor vehicle, except an authorized emergency vehicle, shall follow within 300 feet of any authorized emergency vehicle.
We want to thank you, the motoring public, for watching out for us as we work to watch out for you.