Injuries to two Hillsborough county Police Officers who had stopped by the side of the road last week highlighted the continuing issue of the Florida’s “move over” law. It appears that a significant number of drivers and motorcyclists are either ignoring the law or are unaware of it.
The “move over” law was introduced in Florida in 2002. Basically, it covers emergency vehicles, police vehicles and tow trucks that have stopped on the side of any road or highway in the state and have their lights flashing. The law requires traffic coming up from behind to keep one lane clear of the vehicle or vehicles or reduce speed by 20 mph. An infringement of the law can be punished by a $153 fine in the county as well as points added to a driver’s license.
Last week’s injuries happened when two officers had stopped on the shoulder of Interstate 75 to question a motorcyclist. Another motorcyclist was unable to maintain control as he approached and slammed into the passenger side of the patrol car, injuring the two officers. The two injured officers are still recovering at home with broken legs and other injuries.
A similar accident happened in 2009, when another officer was quite badly injured by an out of control vehicle that hadn’t kept clear of the stopped patrol car that had been parked on the median so that a motorcyclist could be helped. The officer’s neck and shoulder were injured in the accident.
According to the Florida Highway Patrol, over 170 law enforcement officers have been killed by vehicles hitting them while they were either parked on the median strip or on the hard shoulder at the side of a highway across the country.
Hillsborough County’s Sheriff’s Office Sergeant Troy Morgan, said in an interview with the Tampa Bay Tribune recently that many drivers he had stopped for failing to obey the rule had thought that they did not have to move over or slow down if there was nobody standing by the side of the parked vehicle. Sergeant Morgan apparently explained the law clearly in these circumstances and didn’t actually hand out any tickets. He said that many drivers did not fully understand that even if there was nobody outside of a parked vehicle, someone could get out at any minute.
Drivers may be confused about exactly when they have to slow down or move over, but ignorance of the law is not a good defense tactic if you do get a ticket and, according to the County’s Sheriff’s Office, it could mean that somebody gets injured or even killed when they have an already difficult job to do. Sergeant Morgan said that it was not illegal to maintain speed or lane if the vehicle wasn’t in one of the three categories already mentioned above, but it is good manners and plain common sense. In the two and a half years between the middle of January 2011 and the middle of October this year, 295 citations were handed out for “move over” law infringements in Hillsborough County alone.
Some drivers who were interviewed by the Tribune said that it was often difficult to slow down quickly if they suddenly came across an emergency vehicle and would have moved over a lane, if they could. There were a number of drivers who appeared to be ignorant of the speed change aspect of the law while one driver interviewed thought that only around half of the people he observed took notice of the requirement.