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Pennsylvania’s new 'move over' law may not be as safe as it sounds


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Traveling public, beware.


A new law aimed at road safety has taken effect and it could inadvertently create a hazard.


Known as the Move Over Law, it requires that motorists approaching an emergency scene move over to a lane farther away from the scene itself.


If a lane shift can’t be made — due, for example, to side-by-side traffic — the motorist is expected to slow down. By a lot.


It sounds good. It sounds safe. But it may not be quite as it sounds.


Both moving over and slowing down could create trouble. While the law allows the motorist to use his judgment as to whether it’s safe and possible to actually move over, the required slowdown in lieu of moving over is potentially problematic.


The law notes that speed should be reduced to 20 mph below the posted speed limit and that could create jeopardy, especially on a roadway built and intended for higher-speed traffic.


There are situations where the approach to an emergency scene could be comparatively sudden. While a last-minute lane shift on an empty highway may be reasonable, such that hitting the brakes is not needed, add traffic to the situation and there could be mayhem. If a motorist can’t move over due to traffic, the same motorist may not be able to safely reduce speed by 20 mph. Slamming the brakes could create an unsafe situation: like a rear-end collision.


Passed by the Pennsylvania Legislature last year to increase safety for first responders, tow truck drivers and motorists experiencing an emergency, the new law comes with hefty fines: $500 for the first offense, $1,000 for the second and $2,000 plus a 90-day license suspension for third and subsequent offenses.


The law can be applied in virtually any situation that involves flashing lights, road flares or any other sign of an emergency.


There are too many stories of one emergency creating another. The Federal Highway Administration reports that 225 first responders were killed after being struck by vehicles along the highway during a period beginning in 2003, as reported in 2008 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (More recent statistics were not available from the federal highway agency.) The numbers assuredly would rise if the statistics were to include those who aren’t first responders as well as nonfatal injuries.


Every state in the union has a version of Move Over, but the highway administration notes, “The specific provisions defined in each law, however, vary significantly.”


Use due care, provide as much space as practical, yield right-of-way are examples of the differing language in state laws when it comes to the “move over” requirement.


The highway administration notes that there also is significant variation when it comes to speed reduction. According to information provided by the agency in 2020, some states do not require drivers to slow at all. Others use language like slow to a “safe” or “reasonable” speed.


The agency states that effective state Move Over laws should be specific but include appropriate qualifying language that leaves the decision of whether to change lanes up to the driver based on prevailing traffic and roadway conditions and that provides an alternative action of reducing speeds if a lane change maneuver cannot be performed safely.


Signed into law in October and having taken effect April 27, Pennsylvania’s law — as described on the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s website notes: “[It] requires drivers approaching an emergency response area who are unable to safely merge into a lane further away from the response area to slow to at least 20 mph less than the posted speed limit. An emergency response area is where an emergency vehicle has its lights flashing, or where road crews or emergency responders have lighted flares, posted signs, or try to warn travelers.”


The flexibility of move or reduce speed is good. But authorities also must weigh the safety circumstances of speed reduction.


In other words, given the increasingly ubiquitous traffic cameras that snap pictures and result in mailed traffic tickets, police and traffic courts should make room for reasonable discussion before requiring motorists to pay up. Could the motorist safely move over? Could the motorist safely slow down to 20 mph below the speed limit?


Smart motorists who believe they have done no wrong should make their cases in traffic court if they believe they’ve been unjustifiably ticketed.


The spirit of this new law rightly points toward safety, but the letter of this law may actually, in some cases, undermine it.



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  • 1 year later...

Not surprising that someone would come out and try to complain about this new law, now that is has teeth.  


Flashing lights can be seen from far away, the problem is that no takes them seriously until they are right on top of them.  


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