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Outta the Way! Understanding Move Over Laws

You’re cruising down the highway when you suddenly see flashing red lights on the shoulder up ahead. What do you do? Stop your car? Speed up and drive quickly past the scene? Crane your neck as you drive past to get a better look? Or ignore the lights altogether and go along your merry way?

None of the above. When you see a police car, ambulance or roadside assistance vehicle on the side of the road with its lights flashing, you should MOVE OVER.

Every year, thousands of U.S. law enforcement officers and emergency responders are killed or injured on our nation’s highways. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, more than 150 U.S. law enforcement officers have been killed since 1997 after being struck by vehicles along our nation’s highways. In response to this tragic trend, most U.S. states have enacted laws to help ensure the safety of law enforcement officers and emergency responders.

Move Over Laws 101

These laws, fittingly named “Move Over” laws, require motorists to move away from emergency vehicles stopped on the side of the road with their lights flashing.

As of March 2009, 43 states had passed Move Over laws. However, only 29 states offer protection for drivers of tow trucks and other recovery vehicles.

Although Move Over laws vary slightly from state to state, the basic details are pretty much the same. Generally, motorists are required to change lanes when possible to give safe clearance to law enforcement officers and emergency responders on the roadside. If motorists are unable to change lanes, they are required to slow down to at least 20 mph below the speed limit.

A little-known law

Unfortunately, most motorists are still unaware of these laws. Just 29 percent of Americans have heard of Move Over laws, according to a national poll by Mason Dixon Polling & Research, sponsored by the National Safety Commission.

According to the same poll, 86 percent of those surveyed support enacting Move Over laws in all 50 states, and 90 percent believe traffic stops and roadside emergencies are dangerous for law enforcement officers and first responders. 

In an effort to get the word out about life-saving Move Over laws, a coalition of traffic safety and law enforcement groups launched a nationwide public awareness campaign. Known as “Move Over, America,” the partnership was founded in 2007 by the National Safety Commission, the National Sheriff’s Association and the National Association of Police Organizations. The coalition was recently joined by the American Association of State Troopers.

Common questions

Here are answers to motorists’ frequently asked questions about Move Over laws:

If I see an emergency vehicle on the side of the highway with its lights flashing, should I immediately switch lanes?

No, the first thing you should do is slow down so that you can figure out your next move. If you’re on a multi-lane highway, change lanes as soon as it’s safe to do so. Move over so that there is at least one empty lane between you and the emergency vehicle on the roadside.

What if I can’t switch lanes soon enough or if I’m on a two-lane road? Should I stop my car?

No, do not stop your car unless you are directed to do so by a law enforcement officer or another emergency responder directing traffic. If you stop, you will block the flow of traffic, which could result in an accident. If you cannot switch lanes due to traffic or if you are on a two-lane road, simply slow down to at least 20 mph below the speed limit before you pass the emergency vehicle.

How can I prevent having a wreck myself while trying to move over from emergency vehicles?

When you spot an emergency vehicle with lights flashing on the roadside up ahead, the most important thing to do is keep your eyes open and stay alert. Scan the roadway ahead of you and stay aware of vehicles around you. This will allow you to anticipate potential problems and assess the situation so that you can react quickly and safely.

 

Whether or not your state has enacted Move Over laws, all motorists should do the responsible thing and follow these general safety rules. After all, it could mean the difference between life and death for an emergency responder or law enforcement officer.