Q: What is Ohio’s “Quick Clear” law?
A: Ohio’s Quick Lear law became effective December 30, 2008. Its purpose is to speed up the removal of an unoccupied vehicle that may be blocking traffic or endangering the public’s safety following an accident. The law allows police or fire department personnel to remove such a vehicle without getting the vehicle owner’s consent, as long as the removal is approved by the law enforcement agency conducting the accident scene investigation. See Ohio Revised Code 4513.66, "Removal of Highway Obstruction," http://codes.ohio.gov/orc/4513.66.
Q: If removing a blocking vehicle causes property damage, can those who authorized or moved the vehicle be held liable for the damage?
A: Generally, no, as long as the vehicle removal was first approved by the appropriate law enforcement agency, the qualified people who authorized or helped to move the unoccupied vehicle are not liable for any property damage that may result from moving the vehicle. Qualified people include the following: department of transportation employee, sheriff and deputy sheriff, police chief or municipal or township police officer, state highway patrol trooper, fire department chief, officer or firefighter.
Q: Can a private tow truck company be held liable for damage under this law?
A: Tow truck companies are protected under this law, so long as they are acting according to law enforcement direction and have not performed the removal “in a reckless and willful manner.”
Q: Does the “Quick Clear” law apply if the unoccupied vehicle contains hazardous material?
A: No. Accidents involving hazardous materials must be carefully secured by a trained hazardous materials team. The Quick Clear law does not apply to any person or entity involved in removing an unoccupied vehicle, cargo or personal property if the removal would cause or contribute to the release of a hazardous material or to structural damage to the roadway.
Q: What happens if police and fire officials disagree about whether a blocking vehicle should be removed?
A: The Quick Clear law requires police/law enforcement approval before a blocking vehicle can be removed, but the fire department is in command of scene safety, including placement of emergency fire and EMS apparatus. Fire departments and law enforcement personnel are encouraged to conduct joint training on the new law to develop mutual “Quick Clear” protocols for accident scenes.
This “Law You Can Use” column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. It was prepared by Lawrence T. Bennett, Esq., program chair, Fire Science & Emergency Management, University of Cincinnati.