According to a recent study from the American Automobile Association (AAA), nearly one-quarter of United States motorists are unaware of “Slow Down, Move over” laws in their state – or that they even exist at all. Their research also revealed that even among motorists who are aware of these laws, over 40 percent do not follow them. AAA wants drivers nationwide to understand the importance of Move Over for the safety of first responders and roadside emergency workers.
AAA reports an “average of 24 emergency responders including tow providers are struck and killed by vehicles while working at the roadside each year – meaning someone in this line of work is killed, on average, every other week.” In 2020, this number was much higher. Forty-six emergency responders died throughout the country after being struck by vehicles at roadside scenes. These victims included 17 law enforcement officers, 21 tow truck drivers, and four fire and emergency medical service professionals.
Said AAA President and CEO Marshall Doney, “Deaths like these can be avoided if drivers slow down and move over to give these people room to work safely. We can’t stress enough how important it is to pay attention so you have time to change lanes when you see AAA, an emergency responder, or simply anybody along the side of the road.”
The report, issued by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, also noted the following driver behaviors:
- 42% of drivers who do not comply with Move Over laws believe their behavior is not dangerous to roadside emergency workers.
- 23% of motorists surveyed were unaware of Move Over laws in their state.
- Among drivers aware of Move Over laws, 15% did not understand potential consequences of violating the law.
The organization also points out emergency personnel and first responders are not the only victims of these types of car accidents. Since 2015, over 1,600 people have been struck and killed while standing outside a disabled vehicle. These accidents are preventable and avoidable when other motorists follow Move Over traffic laws.
“If you see something, anything, on the shoulder ahead, slow down and move over,” says Jake Nelson, AAA’s director of traffic safety advocacy and research. “It could literally save someone’s life.”
What are California’s Slow Down, Move Over laws?
The California Move Over Law took effect on July 1, 2007 and requires motorists to take actions when approaching emergency vehicles on the freeway displaying emergency lights. Specifically, under Section 21809 of the California Vehicle Code:
A person driving a vehicle on a freeway approaching a stationary authorized emergency vehicle that is displaying emergency lights, or a stationary tow truck that is displaying flashing amber warning lights, shall approach with due caution and, before passing in a lane immediately adjacent to the authorized emergency vehicle or tow truck, absent any other direction by a peace officer, proceed to do one of the following:
Make a lane change into an available lane not immediately adjacent to the authorized emergency vehicle or tow truck with due regard for safety and traffic conditions, if practicable and not prohibited by law.
If drivers cannot make a safe lane change, they can slow down to a “reasonable and prudent” speed instead. Motorists who violate this law are subject to fines up to $1,000 and points on their driving record.
Avoiding roadside and shoulder accidents
Everyone can take part in improving highway safety and preventing devastating and fatal accidents. Understanding state traffic laws and keeping alert for tow trucks and emergency personnel is a good first step. Keep the following in mind when you take your next freeway drive:
- Never drive distracted and stay alert to traffic and road conditions.
- Look ahead for any emergency vehicles, utility vehicles, tow trucks, or disabled cars stopped on the side of the road.
- If approaching an emergency vehicle with lights flashing on a two-lane roadway, slow down to a safe speed and approach with caution. AAA recommends a speed 10 to 20 mph lower than the posted speed limit.
- On a multi-lane roadway, move over to an adjacent lane. If unable to safely move to an adjacent lane, slow down and approach with caution.
If your car breaks down on the freeway
To avoid becoming the victim of an accident, ensure you follow these safety tips in the event your car experiences a breakdown:
- Pull over as far right as possible, while staying on level ground.
- Turn on your hazard lights, to alert other motorists of your car trouble and to Slow Down and Move Over.
- Raise your vehicle hood, and/or attach a brightly-colored bandana or scarf to the antenna or window.
- If you must get out of your vehicle, do so cautiously and watch for oncoming traffic.
- Do not stand directly behind or in front of your vehicle; other motorists may not be able to see you.
- Remain with your vehicle until assistance arrives and keep the doors locked. Leaving your vehicle to walk for help leaves you vulnerable to being struck by a car by careless motorists. Additionally, never attempt to cross a freeway or interstate on foot.
If you or a loved one were injured by a negligent or careless motorists, the Los Angeles accident attorneys at McNicholas & McNicholas, LLP can help. We understand the overwhelming affect a serious injury can have on your life, from medical expenses to lost time from work. Our legal team can help you secure damages for your losses and get you back on the road to physical and emotional recovery.
Please note that this blog is not to be construed as legal advice. Because every case is fact-specific, you should consult directly with an attorney to obtain legal advice specific to your situation.
For more than three decades, McNicholas & McNicholas, LLP has built a reputation as one of California’s leading law firms. Founded by a family of attorneys spanning three generations, John McNicholas and sons, Patrick and Matthew, have tried hundreds of cases to jury verdict on behalf of clients. Learn More about McNicholas & McNicholas