26 Feb How to Respond to a Law Enforcement Traffic Break
Traffic breaks — sometimes known as rolling roadblocks — are employed by law enforcement to slow down highway traffic and keep the road ahead clear to clean up accidents, debris, and road work.
If you’ve driven any amount of time on a highway, it’s likely that you’ve seen a law enforcement traffic break. During a traffic break, a police car turns on its rear emergency lights and weaves back and forth across all highway lanes while decelerating.
Traffic breaks could be deployed for any number of reasons, but they are primarily used when there is a hazard ahead on the road. This could include workers clearing debris that’s fallen onto the road, a car crash, an emergency police operation, a high-risk stop, or even road repair work. Law enforcement may even initiate a traffic break in the case of heavy traffic or dangerous weather such as excessive rain or fog.
Staying Safe during a Traffic Break
While a traffic break is a standard procedure for highway patrol vehicles, it may not be clear to all drivers how to proceed safely and lawfully during one. The California Department of Motor Vehicles offers some pointers for drivers who are unsure of what to do during a traffic break:
- Activate your car’s emergency blinkers. They can help warn drivers that there is a traffic break ahead, and help alert them to slowing traffic.
- Decrease your speed slowly. Sudden stops may cause a collision, especially if the drivers around you are not aware of the traffic break.
- Do not try to drive past the patrol vehicle or “beat” the traffic break. This will likely result in a traffic stop and citation, since there is usually another officer at the scene of the obstruction, as well as possible harm if there is a road hazard up ahead. If you are at the front of a traffic break, keep at least 300 feet away from the patrol vehicle.
- Do not accelerate until the patrol vehicle’s emergency lights are turned off and traffic conditions are clear.
Ending a Traffic Break
Depending on the severity of road conditions, whether it’s an obstruction, accident, or heavy weather, traffic breaks end in two ways. Most often, when the road is completely clear and safe, the law enforcement vehicle will speed forward, indicating that the traffic break is over. However, sometimes road conditions may be more serious and can’t be resolved quickly. In that case, patrol vehicles will likely block all lanes of traffic and officers will divert drivers toward an exit or detour.
Keep in mind that traffic breaks are only deployed by law enforcement when absolutely necessary, and are used to help keep drivers safe.
Officers will often begin slowing down traffic miles behind the cause of a traffic break. Drivers will likely not see any accident, road work, or obstruction that caused the traffic break in the first place. While this can cause some confusion as to why a traffic break is occurring, it is important to follow any law enforcement vehicle’s lead to help keep the road safe and prevent any collisions due to traffic slowing.
Practicing safe driving during a traffic break doesn’t just keep you safe; it helps officers do their jobs, and prevents harm for the vehicles around you as well. Just remember, if you see an officer weaving back and forth, just activate your emergency blinkers and prepare to slow down.