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Auto Accidents Involving Police and First Responder Vehicles On Side of Roads Appear to Be Increasing: NHTSA

A warning by federal highway safety officials indicates several states are seeing an increase in the number of automobile accidents involving police and first responder vehicles that are parked on the side of the road, citing the importance of drivers recognizing “Move Over” laws and taking care to slow down as they pass emergency vehicles.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a press release this month, warning that drivers are failing to move over when approaching police or emergency vehicle on the side of the road, resulting in a growing number of accidents natiownide.

Every state has enacted “Move Over” laws, which require drivers on a multi-lane highway to slow down and either move over to safely avoid the emergency vehicle, or to switch into a lane that is not immediately next to the emergency vehicle, if possible.

Traffic accidents are the leading cause of law enforcement deaths, with nearly 140 fatal injuries reported among first responders from 2003 through 2013. According to the NHTSA, these incident rates are on the rise, with 47 law enforcement officers being struck and killed on the side of the road in 2017 alone. Preliminary crash data for 2018 has identified at least 231 crashes involving emergency first responder vehicles.

Officials report that 15 State Police trooper or other emergency response vehicles in Illinois have been struck so far in 2019, nearly doubling the number of related crashes in 2018.  Michigan State Police report an average of four road-side related crashes every month since January 2016 to present, causing state legislators to expand the fines and penalties under their Move Over laws.

The first-ever “Move Over” law was passed in South Carolina in 1994, after a paramedic on the side of the road was struck and injured by an oncoming vehicle that veered out of its lane. Since then, every state across the nation has adopted some form of Move Over law, with penalties of up to $500 fines, and some carrying jail time.

Despite state efforts to implement and enforce Move Over laws, other factors including distracted driving may be major contributors to roadside collisions. An estimated 95% of all roadway crashes are caused by human error, the NHTSA reports. The majority are the result of a distraction shortly before the collision.

Researchers note that a vehicle traveling at 55 mph covers a distance longer than a football field within five seconds, meaning even very brief secondary, non-driving distractions such as answering a phone call or checking a text significantly increase the odds of a crash.

The NHTSA recommends that if you see an emergency vehicle stopped alongside the road with flashing lights, you should:

  • Immediately slow down
  • Move over if you can do so safely
  • Switch to a lane that’s not immediately next to the emergency vehicle, if possible.

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