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'Move Over Slow Down' law now provides for tow trucks and Caltrans vehicles in addition to emergency responders

Drivers on California freeways or highways must move over if driving adjacent to and approaching a stopped emergency vehicle that has lights flashing, in order to provide an empty lane between their car and the emergency responder; it’s the law.

Those in San Diego County who get cited for breaking the ‘Move Over Slow Down’ law can expect to pay a total of $213 in fines and receive one negative point on their driving record, according to San Diego Superior Court’s public affairs department.

The ‘Move Over Slow Down’ law has been in effect as a trial law since 2007, and requires drivers to safely make a lane change that gives an entire lane of clearance between their car and a stationary emergency responder vehicle. If the driver can’t safely change lanes, they must slow down. The law does not apply if the vehicle with the flashing lights is not adjacent to the freeway or is separated from the driver by a physical barrier, such as a median.

The trial law was set to expire in January 2010, but became permanent on Jan. 1, 2010 after being signed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The new version includes revisions that now allow for both tow trucks and Caltrans vehicles displaying flashing lights to be part of those emergency responders protected within the law.

Senate Bill 159, Move Over Slow Down, was authored by Senator Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, and was created to reduce the deaths of police officers, paramedics, and other emergency personnel who are aiding stranded or injured motorists.

“Most CHP (California Highway Patrol) usually don’t die on the job. Our number one threat for us is in monitoring the public when we make traffic stops,” said Eric Newbury, public information officer for the Oceanside CHP.

The Move Over law can act as a reminder to motorists that “they should keep as far away from the shoulder as possible,” he said. “Anytime we can get the public to see us makes it a little bit safer. That right shoulder is our office.”

Jaime Coffee, an information officer for Sacramento-based CHP, said the Move Over Law basically created the definition of an emergency zone.

“If you see lights, you need to pay attention. We’re losing way too many officers,” she said.

Statistics for law enforcement deaths, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund Web site show that from 1999 to 2008 there have been 154 officers who have lost their lives due to being struck by a vehicle.

According to a Caltrans newsletter issued in March, since 1924 there have been 174 Caltrans employees killed while performing their jobs. Six of those people were killed in the past three years.

On April 1, 24-year-old Esteban Bahena, an emergency medical technician with a private company, was killed after being struck by a vehicle while he was putting down flares to warn drivers of a minor crash on Interstate 163, according to reports.

Drivers should approach a crash that’s being aided on the side of a freeway with due caution, Coffee said.

If emergency lights are flashing from the vehicle, people need to move over if they are able to, she said.

“The thing to do is move over,” Coffee said. “If you can’t move over, adjust your speed.”

At least two states who have a Move Over Slow Down law, such as Florida and Texas, require their drivers to slow down to at least 20 miles per hour below the posted speed if drivers can’t safely change lanes when approaching an adjacent roadside emergency.

As the law pertains locally, Newbury said there is no specific speed that drivers are supposed to slow down to and that it’s up to the discretion of the officer.

“We’re not going to be driving around looking for targets of opportunity,” he said, and added that the law is in place to keep people safe. He also said that the officers who are on the side of the freeway are busy doing something such as enforcing a seat belt or speeding law.

This is more of a spirit-of-the-law, he said, and that if a person is caught breaking this law an officer might pull them over and have a talk with them.

He said that unless someone is driving on the shoulder and putting officers and citizens at risk, that the law isn’t likely to be enforced.

During a February interview he said that locally, to date, the CHP had not issued any citations pertaining to the Move Over law.

But in other areas of the state, motorists have been cited for breaking this law.

During the trial phase of Move Over Slow Down, in 2008 there were 205 citations issued statewide to violators, and 361 citations were issued to offenders in 2009, according to Coffee.

She said the base fine is $50, but may vary from county to county.

According to the San Diego Superior Court, the breakdown is as follows:

• Base bail, (base fine) $35

• Penalty Assessment $112

• Court Security Fee $30

• Criminal Conviction

Fee for infraction $35

• Night Court $1

Karen Dalton, of the County court’s public affairs department, said the law does not have a subsequent bail for repeat offenders, but that most bail will increase if a person has a second moving violation in California within a three year period.

A lot of people didn’t realize we had this law, said Mary Bailey, public information officer of the CHP Border Division.

But the law does exist, and the organization Move Over, America was founded in 2007 and partnered with safety, sheriffs and police organizations to educate the public about the Move Over laws. According to their Web site, moveoveramerica.com, nearly every state in the nation has a Move Over law. Less than a handful of states have not adopted any such law as of yet, and those states include New York, Maryland, Hawaii and Washington D.C.

Newbury reiterated that motorists need to remember to keep as far away from the road shoulder as possible when driving on freeways or highways.

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