In the first two months of 2019, according to the Detroit Free Press, at least a dozen Michigan state police vehicles were struck while patrolling.
The Emergency Responder Safety Institute, an organization of public safety and transportation experts, reports that six to eight fire rescue and EMS responders, and 10 to 12 police officers, are killed working in traffic areas each year in the United States. Moreover, about 50 tow operators are killed annually while working on highways.
Those are pretty frightening statistics, but a new amendment to Michigan’s “Move Over” law expands protection for emergency and service vehicles while providing some much-needed guidance for motorists encountering emergency vehicles that are stopped on the highway with their lights flashing.
Until the new provisions took effect in February, the regulations required drivers approaching a stationary emergency vehicle with its emergency lights activated to move over at least one lane or, if that wasn’t possible, to proceed with caution.
But what does “proceed with caution” mean at highway speeds? How much should a driver slow down? The amended Emergency Vehicle Caution Law clarifies some of the vague requirements in the original legislation and broadens their application.
The amended law applies to stationary emergency vehicles (including tow trucks) and now includes solid-waste collection trucks, utility service vehicles and road maintenance vehicles. The law relates only to instances when these vehicles are stationary with their flashing, rotating or oscillating lights activated.
On any public roadway with at least two adjacent lanes proceeding in the same direction as the stationary emergency vehicle, the driver must “proceed with caution, reduce his or her speed by at least 10 miles per hour below the posted speed limit, and yield the right-of-way by moving into a lane at least one moving lane or two vehicle widths apart from the emergency vehicle, unless directed otherwise by a police officer.”
On roads that don’t have at least two adjacent lanes, or if there is not enough space to allow two vehicle widths, you simply must slow down to at least 10 miles per hour below the speed limit. On divided highways, with a median or physical barrier, you’re not required to slow down or move over for emergency vehicles that are across the dividing space.
If you fail to follow these rules as they apply to emergency personnel, you will be subject to a fine of $400 (down from the previous $500) plus points. No penalties are written into the amendment for failure to move over for waste collection, utility or road maintenance vehicles.
Should you violate these regulations and injure a police officer, firefighter or other emergency response personnel, you can be fined up to $1,000 and imprisoned for up to two years, or both. And if you cause the death of an emergency responder by ignoring the new law, you can be fined as much as $7,500 and imprisoned for up to 15 years, or both.
These provisions to protect responders and work crews are certainly not unique to Michigan. In fact, all 50 states (but not Washington, D.C.) have adopted some type of Move Over Law since the first legislation was passed in South Carolina in 1996. Action was prompted after a South Carolina paramedic helping a patient at the side of the road was found to be at fault when he was struck and injured by a driver in 1994.
Michigan’s newly revised law is meant to help keep our roadsides safe at the times they are most vulnerable, during an emergency. So, let’s be careful out there. Slow down, move over and stay alert.