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Law of the month: Move over for safety

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During winter months, law enforcement officers, tow truck operators and emergency responders often must battle the elements while rescuing motorists and removing vehicles that have slid off icy roads or crashed. Although functioning in frigid conditions can be hazardous, the greatest danger to these workers is being hit by vehicles traveling at high speeds just a few feet away. 

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To create a safety zone for workers on the side of highways, Wisconsin’s Move Over Law requires drivers to shift lanes if possible or at least slow down when encountering a law enforcement vehicle, ambulance, fire truck, tow truck or highway maintenance vehicle that is stopped on the side of a road with its warning lights flashing.

"On interstate highways and other divided roads with multiple directional lanes, you must move over to vacate the lane closest to the law enforcement or other emergency vehicle if you can safely switch lanes," says Wisconsin State Patrol Lieutenant Dori Petznick of the Northwest Region-Spooner Post. "If the road has a single directional lane or you can’t safely move over because of traffic, you must reduce your speed until safely past the vehicle."

A citation for a Move Over Law violation costs $263.50 with three demerit points added to your license. But the greatest danger of a violation is not an expensive fine. In 2013, passing vehicles hit 10 State Patrol vehicles parked on the side of a roadway. In four of those crashes, the officers were inside their vehicles. There were many more near misses of officers. A recent dash cam video from a State Patrol cruiser shows a Move Over Law violation that came shockingly close to seriously injuring a trooper during a traffic stop. The video is available on the Wisconsin DOT’s You Tube channel (www.youtube.com/wisdot).

"Law enforcement officers are well trained and equipped to protect themselves. But they are at serious risk of being hit by passing vehicles nearly every time they stop or assist a motorist. Failure of drivers to create a safety zone by moving over or slowing down is one of the major reasons that motor vehicle crashes kill more law enforcement officers on duty than any other cause. Tow truck operators, highway maintenance workers and emergency responders also are killed and injured when drivers don’t move over or slow down," says Lieutenant Petznick. "By obeying the Move Over Law, drivers can protect themselves, their passengers, our officers and others who work on highways from serious injuries and deaths."

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