New 'pull over' law goes into effect today: Drivers must give emergency, DOT vehicles wide berth
Effective today, an amended state law will force motorists to make greater efforts to slow down and steer clear of any police, fire, or emergency vehicles performing work along highway breakdown lanes or accident scenes.
Bill Boynton, a spokesman with the New Hampshire Department of Transportation in Concord, said the state has had a move over law on the books since 2005. But state lawmakers felt the law needed to be amended to include displays of flashing emergency lights to signal oncoming motorists that they need to slow down and provide more space, he said.
Boynton said several DOT electronic signs on Interstate 95, I-93 and the Spaulding Turnpike have flashed messages to motorists the new law will take effect at 12:01 this morning, after Gov. John Lynch signed House Bill 1235 into law in June.
The message reads:
"Law starts Tuesday/Blue-red amber lights/Move over law."
The amended law was sponsored by state Sen. Robert Letourneau, R-Derry, and Rep. Sherman Packard, R-Londonderry, earlier this year. It calls for oncoming motorists "to give a wide berth to stationary vehicles displaying emergency or warning lights when approaching highway emergencies."
Boynton said police cruisers display flashing blue lights when they are assisting a motorists, tending to an accident scene or issuing tickets. He said fire department vehicles and ambulances display flashing red lights and tow trucks and state DOT crew vehicles display amber, or flashing yellow lights.
Boynton said state officials hope the display of flashing lights will improve overall safety for first responders, highway crews and police officers while they are on the job. He said there have been several incidents where police officers and others have been injured when oncoming motorists were not paying attention, did not reduce their speed and actually struck some people.
"We've had employees who've had to jump over guardrails" to avoid oncoming cars, Boynton said.
The amended law also includes tow truck operators and highway workers.
"Slowing down and moving away from the scene of a roadside incident should be common sense, but not enough drivers do it," said John J. Barthelmes, Commissioner of Safety, in a prepared statement. "These additions to the "Move Over" law will provide protection to a larger group of emergency responders and members of the public."
Boynton and Barthelmes said the move over law is definitely needed.
According to the New Hampshire Department of Safety, State Police Capt. Chris Colitti was working on a speed enforcement details with two other troopers on I-95 in Hampton Falls on July 4, 2005, when he was struck by a driver of an SUV traveling at 68 mph. Colitti suffered multiple broken bones in his right foot and both legs, which required two operations to repair. He also needed extensive physical therapy.
Colitti was out of work completely for 17 weeks and did not return to full duty until the following May, according to the state agency.
Colitti said Monday he is still not 100 percent recovered from his injuries.
"On July 3, 2005, I could easily run four to five miles," Colitti said. "Today, it wouldn't be as easy."
State police cruisers have also taken a beating from motorists.
From 2004 to today, state police have had 36 cruisers struck in roadside incidents. Three were totaled, while the rest sustained damage that combined exceeded $58,000, the state agency reported.
Colitti said there is no law that mandates emergency vehicles, tow trucks and DOT crews use their flashing lights when they perform work on the side of the road. But the new law calls on motorists to slow down and move away from such vehicles when they see their flashing lights, he said.
Colitti also said the House bill did not contain any fines or specific penalties for motorists who do not slow down or move away from emergency vehicles. He said those may be added in the future pending discussions between the Department of Safety and lawmakers.
He doesn't know if the new law would have prevented his accident because he recalls that his cruiser's blue lights were flashing when he was struck.
Colitti said the difference may be that when the original law was passed in 2005, it wasn't accompanied by any real public awareness campaign. He hopes that now the public outreach that is happening with the new law will increase public awareness.
According to the group, Move Over, America, a national partnership created in 2007 by the National Safety Commission, the National Sheriff's Association and the National Association of Police Organizations, 44 states have implemented move over laws.
"More than 150 U.S. law enforcement officers have been killed since 1997 after being struck by vehicles along America's highways, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund," according to information posted on the group's Web site, "www.moveoveramerica.com.
Maine lawmakers implemented a move over law in 2005 and Vermont lawmakers passed their version of the law in 2002. According to the group, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island are among the six states that have not passed move over laws.
"We have families, too," Colitti said.
The partners of the "Move Over, America" Campaign demonstrate its deep reach and significance.
The National Safety Commission, which operates online driving safety courses through www.LowestPriceTrafficSchool.com, is America's leader in driver safety training, providing courses to consumers and businesses in every state and in more than a dozen countries.
The National Sheriffs' Association is dedicated to raising the level of professionalism among sheriffs, their deputies and other criminal justice professionals, providing information, technical assistance, professional development opportunities and congressional advocacy.
The National Association of Police Organizations is the strongest unified voice supporting law enforcement officers in the United States, representing more than 2,000 police unions and associations and 238,000 sworn law enforcement officers, whose interests NAPO serves to advance through legislative and legal advocacy, political action and education.
The American Association of State Troopers had been providing benefits and services to America's state troopers since 1989.
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