More Drivers Complying with ‘Move Over’ Highway Safety Laws
I-270 crash highlights importance of expanded regulations, authorities say
Maryland drivers are increasingly following a “Move Over” law in the five years since it was expanded to protect other emergency and service workers stopped on highway shoulders.
State police troopers issued 5,408 citations and 12,107 warnings in 2014, and following the expansion of the law, those numbers fell to 1,349 citations and 5,671 warnings in 2018, state police spokesman Ron Snyder said.
The number of tickets and warnings has declined each year, he said.
“Motorists have definitely gotten the message,” Snyder said.
Montgomery County Police were unable to provide statistics on citations issued by county officers.
Maryland’s law went into effect in 2010 and requires drivers approaching stopped police vehicles to move over a lane if it is available or slow down if the adjacent lane is occupied.
The law was amended in 2014 to include tow trucks, fire department vehicles and medical rescue trucks and expanded again in October to include transportation services and utility vehicles with amber flashing lights.
“It’s really to protect any vehicle that is out there doing work on the road,” Snyder said. “Any time you’re having that much traffic and you put a vehicle out there, parked trying to do their job, it can be dangerous.”
The fine for breaking the law is $110 and one point against the driver’s license. If the violation contributes to a crash, the fine jumps up to $150 and three points. Violations resulting in death or serious bodily injury carry a fine of $750.
A collision last week on Interstate 270 served as a reminder of the dangers along the roadways.
Four troopers from the Rockville state police barrack were on I-270 investigating a suspected impaired driver when another driver struck three police cruisers, which had emergency lights flashing, according to police.
None of the troopers were in their vehicles at the time of the collision and none were injured. The driver was cited for failure to yield to an emergency vehicle, negligent driving and failure to obey a traffic control device.
The Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service has advocated for drivers to move over and be aware of first responders before the state “Move Over” laws were in place, spokesman Pete Piringer said. The department has pushed its “Hear Us, See Us, Clear for Us” message for at least a decade.
“The law is basically what we think is common sense,” Piringer said. “When you see some activity, whether it be emergency lights, tow vehicles, highway trucks or police, fire or EMS, just slow down, move over. It’s obviously a hazard or an emergency, something is going on.”
The fire service typically sends additional units to emergencies on major highways so one vehicle can serve as a “blocker,” Piringer said.
This provides added protection for first responders, as well as those in need of medical attention. The department sends nearly as many units to an emergency on I-270 or the Beltway as it does to a house fire, Piringer said.
“You’ll often see them take up a couple lanes, park sideways, and that’s all to protect our crew,” Piringer said.
AAA Spokesman John Townsend said every state has some sort of “Move Over” law. The District of Columbia was the final area to adopt related laws, with new requirements taking effect this week.
As for the cause of these types of collisions, Townsend pointed to a study done by the Transportation Research Board, a program unit of the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, examining the “Moth Effect.”
“When the lights are flashing on the side of the road, for some strange reason some drivers are so fixated with the flashing lights, so captivated by it, so fascinated by it, that they actually drift into the light,” Townsend said, like moths drawn to a flame.
The researchers concluded in a 2006 Accident Reconstruction Journal entry that while most doubt the existence of the Moth Effect citing a lack of empirical evidence, several recent experimental studies have demonstrated the effect.
Lack of familiarity with the laws in place may be another issue. Townsend cited a national poll sponsored by the National Safety Commission, a safety awareness advocacy group, that found 71 percent of Americans have not heard of “Move Over” laws.
“Despite all of the tickets … there are many drivers that are still perplexed by the law,” Townsend said.