WASHINGTON, D. C. (Thursday, November 9, 2017) –– Hundreds of roadside professionals are casualties each year of roadside incidents. In fact, about 100 roadside professionals, including police, fire, EMS personnel, and towers, are killed each year while assisting with a roadside emergency. Now the very professionals who earn a living rescuing persons in highway crashes are themselves taking to the streets to promote highway safety and help safeguard the lives of fellow first responders. To highlight this, the Spirit Ride relay, consisting of a caravan of emergency responders and roadside emergency providers, rolled into the nation’s capital this morning with its symbolic casket perched on the bed of a tow truck.
The ceremonial casket calls attention to the first responders and tow truck drivers who have lost their lives on the side of the road. In 2014 alone, 33 tow truck operators were killed while trying to rescue stranded drivers. Over the past decade (2007-2016), 127 police officers died in the line of duty after being struck by a vehicle. During 2016, at least 15 Maryland State Troopers were struck by vehicles during traffic stops on I-495. At least 37 Maryland State Police officers were hit by vehicles from January 2016 through June 2017, according to news reports.
All 50 states in the union, including Virginia and Maryland, require drivers to reduce their speed and switch lanes to protect these workers. However, the District of Columbia does not have a “Move Over law” on its books. Yet drivers who routinely fail to reduce their speed and switch lanes in such situations can put roadside responders in harm’s way and engender a potentially deadly situation. Tragically, in July, tow truck driver Brian Lee Williams was fatally struck while retrieving a disabled car on the side of the road on northbound I-95 in Cecil County, Maryland. Williams had recently retired after a 31-year career serving the Community Fire Company of Perryville. In September, another tragic crash on Route 222 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, involved a tower, Ralph Henry Watrous II, as well as the motorist he was assisting, Robert M. Buckwalter, Jr. Both were killed by a passing driver.
The Spirit Ride is a year-long processional designed to bring attention to state Move Over laws. From now through 2018, more than 400 volunteer towing companies across over 250 U.S cities will travel on roadways with a ceremonial casket that honors first responders who have lost their lives while working at the roadside. Tarek Aburish, the owner of District Towing, towed the ceremonial Spirit Ride Casket into the city.
“While Move Over laws are now in effect in all 50 states, including Virginia and Maryland, public awareness remains low, and drivers still routinely fail to reduce their speed and switch lanes to protect roadside workers,” said Tarek Aburish, owner, District Towing. “Today’s Spirit Ride ceremony is designed to help raise awareness of life-saving Move Over laws, and to honor the hundreds of roadside workers, including first responders and tow truck operators, who lose their lives each year in the line of duty.”
“Each year, AAA rescues 32 million stranded motorists across North America, many of them on the side of busy roadways,” said Tom Calcagni, Regional Director, AAA Mid-Atlantic Public & Government Affairs. “Roadside workers, including first responders and tow truck operators, unselfishly put their lives at risk every time they work on a disabled vehicle or respond to a crash. To keep roadside workers safe and sound, motorists are legally required by law to move over, if it is safe to do so. If they can’t, they should prudently slow down once they see an incident on the side of the road. It is well said, ‘failure to obey the ‘Move Over Law’ can lead to consequences far more serious than fines.’”
With the recent enactment in New Mexico, all 50 states now require motorists to move over one lane or slow down when they pass roadside workers, such as first responders or tow truck operators, who are stopped on the side of the road. Public awareness of these important, life-saving laws remains low, with 71 percent of Americans unaware of their existence, according to the National Safety Commission.
The Spirit Ride aims to spread the “Slow Down, Move Over” message and encourage drivers to adhere to their state’s laws. “The intent of the ‘move over’ law is to provide an extra barrier of safety for police officers, fire fighters, and emergency rescue personnel working along roads,” highway safety officials and advocates say.
Move Over laws in both Maryland and Virginia include tow trucks and their operators. Virginia’s “Move Over” law was expanded in 2010 to protect police officers, emergency workers, and tow truck drivers. In 2014, Maryland expanded its “Move Over” law to include tow trucks attending to roadside emergencies. It requires motorist to move into an open lane away from tow trucks during an emergency or to slow to a reasonable and prudent speed that is safe when approaching a tow truck operating performing a roadside rescue. The expanded law went into effect in Maryland on October 1, 2014. AAA Mid-Atlantic was a leading advocate of the change. For motorists, here are the licit requirements of “Move Over” laws in area jurisdictions, notes the AAA Digest of Motor Laws.
Maryland - State law requires drivers traveling in the same direction and approaching a stopped emergency vehicle using flashing lights, including tow trucks, to change into a lane not immediately adjacent to the vehicle, if possible, or to slow to a speed safe for weather, road, and traffic conditions.
Virginia - State law requires drivers approaching a stationary emergency vehicle, including a tow truck, that is displaying a flashing lights and traveling in the same direction to vacate the lane closest to the stationary vehicle if safe to do so, or slow to a speed safe for highway conditions. Also included in the law are road maintenance vehicles.
Washington, D.C. - The District of Columbia has no move over law.
In Maryland the law lays it down. “A violation of the ‘move over’ law is a primary offense with a fine of $110 and one point,” according to the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA). “If the violation contributes to a traffic crash, the fine is $150 and three points. If the violation contributes to a traffic crash resulting in death or serious injury, the fine is $750 and three points.” A first offense in Virginia will be treated as a traffic violation. However, subsequent violations “may be punishable as a Class 1 misdemeanor,” meaning in layman’s terms that it can “carry the possibility of a $2,500 fine and jail time.”
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