Just after noon on Thursday (August 12), Washington State Department of Transportation Maintenance Technician 2 Guy Copeland was busy mowing the grassy median on I-5 near Castle Rock in Cowlitz County when a passing motorist flicked a lit cigarette out of their window. The cigarette butt landed directly in front of the mower and almost instantly the extremely dry grass went up in flames. Guy immediately backed the mower up, but the fire spread quickly and had soon had the machine surrounded. After radioing for help, Guy leapt out of the mower to safety. The Washington State Patrol and two more WSDOT employees soon arrived on the scene and closed one left lane on I-5 northbound to make room for the fire trucks and personnel from Castle Rock Fire and EMS, the Cowlitz County Fire District 3 and the state Department of Natural Resources. After about an hour and a half, the fire was out, and left lane was reopened just before 2:30 p.m.
“What we have here is a careless motorist who needlessly risked the life of a state employee and damaged state equipment,” said WSDOT Southwest Region Maintenance and Operations Manager Rick Sjolander. “All because they couldn’t be bothered to put their cigarette out properly.”
This summer has been extremely dry, which increases the risk for brush and grass fires across the state. As a result, WSDOT, the Washington State Patrol and a host of state agencies and local fire districts have teamed up to send drivers a simple message, “Keep your butt in the car.”
By throwing a lit cigarette out the window, you jeopardize the safety of others, cause potential traffic back-ups while emergency response teams battle the fire, and cost taxpayers up to $100,000 an acre. It’s not cheap for those caught throwing cigarettes out their window either. The Washington State Patrol will fine violators $1,025 if caught.
WSDOT would also like to emphasize the fact that summer is one of the busiest highway maintenance seasons in the state. All motorists are asked to please slow down, pay attention and use caution while driving past a highway work zone, whether it’s in a travel lane or on the shoulder or median.
Give ‘em a Brake!
Work Zone Safety Facts:
It is more likely that a motorist will be killed in a highway work zone accident than a construction or maintenance employee. In Washington, 12 motorists are killed for every WSDOT employee killed and 214 motorists are injured for every WSDOT employee injured.
The most common cause of work zone accidents is speeding and inattentive driving.
All traffic law violation fines are doubled inside a work zone when workers are present (RCW 46.61.527).
All motorists must obey the directions of all flaggers or pilot vehicle drivers within the work zone. If you ignore their directions or in any way endanger their lives with reckless driving, you will be charged with a misdemeanor (RCW 46.61.015).
State law dictates that all motorists must yield the right of way to any highway construction personnel, vehicles with flashing yellow lights or construction equipment inside a highway construction or maintenance work zone (RCW 46.61.215).
Contact our Vermont Accident Lawyers if you have ever experienced a personal injury and think others are at fault for the accident.