FHA Examines Differences in Move Over Laws Across the Country

Posted on August 22, 2012

The importance of Move Over Laws cannot be overestimated.  Such measures are often the final line of defense between emergency responders and certain tragedy.  For those who are unaware, Move Over Laws are those ordinances which typically require the driver of a motor vehicle to slow down and get over when they approach a stopped emergency vehicle along the road.  All but seven states have such laws in place, but a new report from the Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration iterates how the agency would like to see such laws become standard across all states.

To make their point, the organization points to a number of differences and potential areas of confusion among the various laws that states have on the books.  For instance, not every state defines an emergency scene in the same manner.  Whereas some states like Oklahoma, Texas, and Oregon have laws that only pertain specifically to emergency vehicles, other states also have language meant to guarantee that tow trucks, maintenance vehicles, and in the state of Alaska, even animal control vehicles are afforded protection as well.

States also approach having drivers change lanes in very different ways.  Wyoming and Minnesota err on the side of caution and advise drivers to get over to the farthest possible lane away from the emergency vehicle.  But New York only urges due care.  Many states fall somewhere in the middle of those two extremes, opting to require drivers to move one lane over or give whatever space is necessary.  Many states make exemptions if, for instance, a lane change is illegal or unsafe.

Speed reduction, which should sound straightforward enough, also comes in many different forms with Move Over Laws.  Many states refrain from actually suggesting a speed, while others go in-depth into the speed that a driver should slow down to.  Unfortunately, this specificity might not always be a good thing.  West Virginia is cited as one area where the speed required is so low as to be unreasonable.

To help make sure that states’ Move Over Laws will be successful, the Federal Highway Administration calls for cooperation between transportation officials and law enforcement entities.  Doing so would help such groups understand the challenges faced as well as the concerns various parties have about such laws.

In the Incident Responders’ Safety Model Law from the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances, sample language for a universal Move Over Law is offered.  The big takeaway from the most updated version of this language is the purposeful language and the strict sanctions placed upon violators.  With 225 emergency responders having been killed between 2003 and 2008, the FHA makes the case for strict enforcement and universality of Move Over Laws.

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