Drivers need to ‘move over’ for emergency vehicles

The sight of lights flashing atop an emergency vehicle ahead should prompt all motorists to move to another lane or slow down as they carefully pass by.

Unfortunately, a growing number are not bothering to do either, according to the Michigan State Police.

“I believe we can call this an epidemic,” said F/Lt. Ken Dilg, MSP Metro North Post commander. “Near misses are an everyday occurrence. We routinely have to replace vehicles that are struck and destroyed. Worst of all, we have all lost people who were simply doing their job. It must stop now.”

What’s commonly known as the “The Move Over Law” In Michigan is crucial to keeping law enforcement and rescue workers safe while trying to work alongside traffic, MSP reminded drivers Monday.

The law requires motorists move over for stationary emergency vehicles with their lights activated or slow down and pass with caution if it is not possible to safely change lanes.

The MSP still has a relatively recent example of what can go wrong when someone fails to follow that law. On Labor Day in 2011, Michigan State Trooper Drew Spencer was working a routine traffic stop on I-96 in Ingram County when he was struck by a car while walking back to his squad.

He suffered a traumatic brain injury with multiple skull fractures. Incredibly, he was able to return to work three months later, but only after much treatment and needing ongoing therapy.

Every state, sadly, has cases similar to what happened to Spencer. According to the Federal Highway Administration, more than 20,000 emergency responders nationwide are either injured or killed every year during traffic incidents.

Minnesota named its version of the Move Over Law after State Patrol Cpl. Theodore “Ted” Foss of Winona, killed in August 2000 when hit by a semi-trailer truck while standing outside his squad during a traffic stop.

Among those calling for strict adherence to Michigan’s Move Over law are: AAA Michigan, Michigan Association of Ambulance Services, Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, Michigan Association of Fire Chiefs, Michigan Department of Transportation, Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning, Michigan Sheriffs’ Association, Michigan State Police, Move Over Michigan Inc., Michigan Towing Association and the Southeastern Michigan Association of Fire Chiefs.

A motorist found responsible for violating the law is guilty of a misdemeanor and will have four points tacked on to their driver’s license. Enhanced penalties can mean up to 15 years in prison and/or a $7,500 fine if the violation causes injury or death to a police officer, firefighter or other emergency response personnel.

The Emergency Vehicle Caution Law applies to police, fire, rescue, ambulance, tow truck or wrecker and any other vehicle designed for roadside service.

A 2014 statewide phone survey commissioned by the OHSP found nearly 80 percent of motorists were aware of the move over law for police vehicles, fire trucks and ambulances, but only 60 percent knew the law also applies to tow trucks.

Emergency workers need to be confident they won’t become a target while trying to do their jobs. So if you see those flashing lights ahead, slow down, move over and help keep these people safe.