‘Move over’ is the law — and common courtesy

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Move over.

It’s simple — just two words — but important.

And it’s been the law since January 2002, when North Carolina’s Move Over law took effect with the goal of helping prevent traffic collisions involving stopped emergency vehicles.

The law requires motorists approach cautiously when an emergency vehicle is stopped on the shoulder of a roadway with its lights flashing. Motorists are required to change lanes away from the emergency vehicle on a multi-lane highway or slow down on a two lane highway.

But it doesn’t always happen that way.

Trooper Brandon Albertson of the N.C. Highway Patrol knows from experience. In March 2016, while assisting another trooper with a traffic stop on U.S. 64, Albertson’s marked patrol vehicle, with blue lights activated and the trooper still in the car, was hit by an approaching motorist.

“Another trooper had stopped a car,” Albertson recalled. “The rule that everybody’s taught — if you seen fire, EMS, any emergency vehicle — if you see the light, pull to the right. If law enforcement tries to stop you, just pull to the right shoulder of the road, or to a safe location. This individual just stopped in the road.”

Albertson stopped to assist, situating his vehicle catty-corned to the other trooper and the car he had pulled. But the driver of an approaching vehicle, traveling 80 miles per hour in a 55 zone, “never even saw us,” Albertson said, “and he ran right into the back of me.”

Albertson suffered a concussion, head contusions and “pretty bad bruising.” Despite his injuries, Albertson said he was “lucky,” and statistics back up that assertion.

The online Officer Down Memorial Page notes that, nationwide, being struck by another vehicle has been the third-leading cause of death of law enforcement officers this year, with 10 killed. Six were killed in 2018.

“You can see a slight uptick over the last two years,” said Siler City Police Chief Michael Wagner.

The police chief said his officers are trained about how to properly conduct traffic stops, but “unfortunately, motorists don’t get that same training. We conduct our business on the side of the road and we put ourselves at risk every time we get out of the car.”

Even though Move Over is law, Albertson said abiding by it also “just common courtesy.”

“It doesn’t have to be a law enforcement officer sitting there,” he said. “Think about what’s going on on the side of the road. Give half a second and think ‘What if that was me on the side of the road?’ It could be your daughter or your son changing a tire. It’s a duty. If they’re on the side of the road, move over.”

Daryl Griffin, chief of the Pittsboro Fire Department, said failure of motorists to abide by the law — whether because of distractions such as telephones, or merely ignoring the courtesy of looking out for others — is an ongoing issue for his firefighters when they’re called out.

“Our trucks never have been hit,” Griffin said, “but several of our firefighters have come close to being hit. It’s scary. And it’s more dangerous than fighting the fires.”

Albertson said “about everybody” he works with has had “pretty close encounters,” including a trooper earlier this month getting hit on U.S. 64 in Chatham County. It wasn’t “to the scale” of his incident and “nothing serious.”

“But still...” he said.

Though the law is often ignored to the peril of those working on roadsides, violating the law is punishable by a $250 fine. And come December 1, North Carolina drivers will face higher penalties if they violate the Move Over law and cause the serious injury or death of an emergency service official.

Late last month, Gov. Roy Cooper signed into law Senate Bill 29 — also called the “Officer Jason Quick Act,” named for the Lumberton police officer who was struck by a car and killed while responding to a car accident on I-95 in 2018 — which increases the penalty for such drivers from a Class I felony to a more severe Class F.

“Law enforcement officers like Jason Quick put their lives on the line to keep our communities safe,” Cooper said in July after finalizing SB 29. “This bill will increase penalties for those who recklessly endanger the lives of our first responders, and I’m proud to sign it in memory of Officer Quick and in honor of all of our first responders.”

Albertson said about 80 percent of the motorists he observes — “if I had to put a number on it,” he said — obey the law.

“I think we’re doing a fairly good job,” he said. “I say ‘we’: news media, law enforcement, we’ve done fairly good at getting the word out about Move Over.”

For those who don’t, he urged more mindfulness of the folks on the side of the road just doing their job.

“Have some compassion,” Albertson said. “Have some common courtesy.”

Randall Rigsbee can be reached at rigsbee@chathamnr.com.


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