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Emergency Vehicles – A Matter of Common Sense

I can’t tell you how often I have been driving on a divided highway when I see an emergency vehicle approaching from the opposite direction, and at least one other driver panics because they are unsure of what to do.  We all know that we are supposed to do something under these  circumstances, but many drivers don’t know the proper procedures when there is an emergency vehicle coming toward them, so they fail to yield to common sense.  Almost without exception, EVERYONE pulls way over to the right and either stops or moves along at a crawl even though there is a median between them and the approaching vehicle.  I have seen so many accidents occur or nearly occur by this behavior.  Many times, the drivers who do this don’t even realize WHY they are doing so because they either don’t know that a move over law exists, or they don’t understand how it is supposed to work.

Now, before anyone gets up in arms, keep in mind that the move over law does not effect drivers on the opposite side of the median from the approaching emergency vehicle.  This is true of all divided highways, including those separated by turn lanes.  I am referring to 4-lane or greater roads that are divided highways, meaning there is a median, turn-lane, guard rail, or some other method of separating the two directions of travel.  Yet people tend to panic when they see flashing lights without reasoning what the best course of action is to ensure the most safety and creating the least amount of risk to themselves and others.


The “move-over” law pertains to two-lane roads only in regards to an emergency vehicle approaching you, and an emergency vehicle stopped on the roadway in your direction of travel.  Under those circumstances, the law states that you are to slow down to 20 mph under the posted speed limit if an emergency vehicle is approaching.  If you are on a road where the speed limit is 20 mph or less, you are required to slow down to 5 mph.  If you are on a multi-lane highway with several lanes traveling in the same direction and come upon a stopped law enforcement vehicle or emergency vehicle, you must switch lanes if you are in the lane closest to those vehicles.  The catch for a lot of people seems to be that you must do so as soon as it is safe to proceed.  How many times has someone in the right lane swerved in front of you to move away from the emergency vehicle, without a thought as to the accident their just narrowly avoided?  If they were aware of the proper procedures regarding Florida’s “move-over” laws, they should know to simply slow down to 20 mph less than the posted speed limit, unless instructed to do otherwise by emergency personnel.  This keeps the emergency responders safe, as well as those others traveling on the same roadway.

This law does not apply to a cop giving someone a traffic ticket on the other side of the road multiple lanes away, but it does apply if an emergency vehicle is approaching from behind you; however, this doesn’t mean that you should cut across four lanes of traffic in a careless manner.  In fact, doing so may very well result in you getting a traffic ticket for reckless driving.  The law also applies to those emergency vehicles that are already stopped in the emergency lane.  You are then required to move out of the right-hand lane in a safe manner and slow your speed appropriately.  When it comes to these actions, always ask yourself, “Do I NEED to move over?  Can I move over safely?”

I have seen this behavior even when there is just a cop car on the opposite side of a median.  Think about how many times you have been driving and there is a fender bender or some guy changing a tire on the side of the road in the oncoming lane.  Everyone slows way down to crane their necks to see what has happened and then the next thing they know, they become part of their own accident or just narrowly avoid one.  Put blue and/or flashing lights on top of the stopped vehicle, and chaos ensues.  Even if an accident doesn’t occur, you can count on the development of another one of those traffic jams for which South Florida is notorious.  This is seldom the result of the emergency vehicle being on the side of the road, but it is often the rubberneckers or those drivers who don’t understand the correct procedures pertaining to the move over law.

Although the move over law works well in theory, if falls down in practicality here in South Florida.  Trying to change into an adjacent lane on many of the highways here is very dangerous, especially if you have to do so suddenly.  Consequently, your alternative is to slow down to 20 mph under the speed limit which puts you at 40 mph.  This still poses a risk to rescue workers so cops will often indicate that you need to slow down even further.  This creates a tremendous likelihood of getting rear-ended, especially since not everyone behind you can see what is going on in front of you and are therefore unprepared to make the same adjustments to their speed.

As a traffic ticket attorney here in South Florida, there are many traffic tickets issued that I find frivolous.  This particular law is one that I feel is a good one for certain areas because its purpose is to protect emergency personnel, but it is only feasible to put it into practice if it can be done without causing injuries to drivers.  I do take issue with the fact that it is not always safe to implement the requirements of this law, and I am opposed to the penalties for failing to adhere to the terms of this law.  Not only can a driver receive a traffic citation which results in both a fine and points being assessed against his license for not following the law, but sometimes in an ardent attempt to comply, the driver can be issued an additional traffic citation for driving recklessly.  The dichotomy of this law seems to escape the understanding of its legislators – urban roadways present a great risk to emergency workers, yet in trying to protect them, they have enacted a law that increases the risk of accidents to drivers on South Florida highways.

Because this law cannot be followed safely on our busy highways, this has become just one more way for the local governments to generate income.  Emergency personnel are still being injured or killed because drivers simply cannot consistently adhere to the move over law.  Yet, these same legislators do not want to repeal these laws for fear that it will look like they are uninterested in protecting emergency personnel. If you have received a traffic citation in South Florida for not adhering to this dangerous law, or if you have received a ticket for reckless driving by trying to follow the law, give the Traffic Ticket Team a call for your free consultation at (954) 967-9888.  As with other traffic tickets, we have many years of experience with helping our clients better handle such situations.