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OPINION: “Move Over Law,” more tools needed to keep law enforcement safe

| March 16, 2019, 02:53 PM
Rams Head

Every day more than 16,000 Maryland law enforcement officers say goodbye to their families and head out to protect and serve their communities. As a police officer, both you and your family know the risks of the job when you’re sworn in to wear the badge – impaired drivers, weapons, domestic incidents gone wrong, vehicular crashes – there are many things on your daily shift that could keep you from going home to your family.

But one such danger is especially troubling because it doesn’t come from weapons or criminals – it’s our own citizens that are accidentally injuring or killing our officers in roadside incidents. In fact, the fourth highest cause of police officer death since 2008 is ‘Struck by Vehicle.’ In fact, from 2008-2017, 126 officers have lost their lives after being struck by a vehicle – many of these were simple violations of the ‘Move Over’ law, set in place to protect police officers and roadside workers every day.

Maryland’s Move Over Law, first passed in 2011 and later expanded in 2014 and 2018, requires drivers to move over to a different lane if they see a police car, ambulance, tow truck, or other service vehicle on the shoulder of the road with their lights flashing. If they cannot safely move over, they must slow down to a reasonable speed. Failure to do so results in a $110 fine and one point against the driver’s license; the fine escalates to $750 if the violation results in death or serious injury.

Unfortunately, most citizens don’t realize the law exists, don’t understand it or simply choose not to follow it. This has resulted in the deaths of at least three Maryland State Highway Administration employees and injuries to multiple police officers in recent years. Field testing of new technology that can track and provide required evidence of Move Over violations in Anne Arundel County, MD demonstrated the epidemic of these violations – a staggering 1.2 violations every minute of a traffic stop during the test period. Roadside workers’ lives are clearly at risk.

When an officer conducts a traffic stop or assists a motorist in distress, that officer can’t be expected to continuously monitor approaching traffic much less take enforcement action on ‘Move Over’ violations. It’s an impossible task. This is why we need to take a more aggressive approach to educating drivers about ‘Move Over’ laws. There are technologies available on the market – innovative video cameras, RADAR and license plate reader systems – that affix to a patrol vehicle and can capture violation information in real-time. Once these violators receive their first citation in the mail, you can be sure they’ll think twice about violating – and endangering an officer – again.

Sadly, public information and education campaigns along with occasional, although well intended, enforcement teams have not had the desired effect. There must be a certain consequence to violations to create any significant deterrence. As a community, we need to strongly encourage our public officials to enact legislation that would allow for these technologies to be used, like House Bill 1368, which was heard this week by the Maryland House of Delegates. We owe it to our police officers who serve and protect us every day. Now it’s time we protect them.

Lieutenant Bill Tower

Retired Barrack Commander

Maryland State Police

Rams Head

 

 

 

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