Move Over Law and the Sometime Tragic Consequences of Helping Others
I am sure that we can all agree that breaking down on the side of the road sucks, but it is bound to happen to most of us if we drive long enough. Don’t think that a fancy new car always ensures this doesn’t happen to you. It doesn’t only occur to people who drive clunkers or to those who think they can squeeze another five miles out of the gas in their tank. Sometimes the mishap that leaves you stranded can be something as simple as picking up a roofing nail in your tire from the roadway. Not everyone carries a spare tire or has the equipment or ability to replace a tire even if they do have a spare
Fortunately for those of us who are unprepared for such eventualities, the Florida Department of Transportation, in conjunction with other partners, formed a service patrol group back in 1999 called Road Rangers. The Florida Road Ranger program is a state funded project which offers assistance to drivers who find themselves in just such situations of distress as previously mentioned. Initially started to help ease the problems that occur in construction areas, the Road Rangers who are hired now are currently trained to respond to a variety of incidents and patrol heavily traveled sections of highways to help minimize the number of incidents. The training that the Road Rangers receive and their willingness to do what they do make this one of the most effective tools used by the Florida Department of Transportation in its incident management program.
These Road Rangers often act as first responders to incidents that occur on South Florida highways. Although the Road Rangers do not receive medical training, they are provided with a wide variety of equipment to help drivers who may be in need of assistance. The type of trucks they drive may vary depending upon which contractor they work for, but they all are equipped with certain safety equipment and tools that include the following:
- 2 Ton Jacks
- 5 Gallons of Sand
- Air Compressor
- Auto Fluids
- Booster Cables
- Cell Phones
- Fire Extinguishers
- First Aid Kits
- Flashing Arrow Board
- Public Address System
- Radiator Water
- Reflective Cones
- Wood Blocks
- Basic repair tools
The primary purpose of Road Rangers is to reduce accidents, but they also help Florida Highway Patrol (FHP)to reduce the length of incidents, assist stranded drivers, remove debris from the roadways to prevent incidents from occurring, and improve safety at the site of accidents. All of these efforts are made in order to minimize the possibility of traffic accidents. Sadly, these efforts can often end in tragic consequences. Such is the case with the recent incident of a Road Ranger who was struck and killed on I-95 on October 26 by a hit-and-run driver while he was attempting to assist a stranded motorist. Arthur Metellus, 56, was working to help get a disabled vehicle back on the road at approximately 1 a.m. when he was struck by another vehicle. According to evidence found at the scene, the investigators believed that the vehicle was a 2006 – 2007 model Jeep. Fortunately for the man’s family, the FHP believe that they have found the person responsible for the tragedy, but had made no arrest at the time this was written.
Unfortunately, what happened to Mr. Metellus is not an isolated incident. More recently, firefighter Kevin Johns was standing beside his vehicle preparing to replace a tire. In a series of unanticipated events, a vehicle slowed when the driver saw him standing beside his car. Another driver didn’t see the slowed vehicle until it was too late to react. She struck the slowed vehicle and Mr. Johns in the process. He succumbed to his injuries several hours later.
Dozens of law enforcement officers are killed every year by other vehicles while handling traffic stops or assisting drivers who are stuck on the highways. When you add this number to the amount of construction workers, tow truck operators, highway workers, and other emergency personnel who are struck by vehicles while in the service of their given fields, the numbers are staggering. It is the deaths and injuries that occur in such circumstances that are the reason for Florida’s Move Over law.
Many drivers are aware that when they see an emergency vehicle they are supposed to do something, but are often unsure of what the law requires. Simply put, when an emergency vehicle is stopped off to the side of your lane of travel, you must reduce your speed to 20 mph under the posted speed limit. If the speed limit is already 20 mph or less, you must reduce your speed to 5 mph. If, however, you approach an emergency vehicle while traveling on a roadway that has more than one lane of travel going in the same direction, you must move out of the lane that is closest to that vehicle when it is safe to do so. If you are unable to move over safely, you must slow your speed to 20 mph below the posted speed limit. Of course, whenever given directives by a law enforcement official that are contrary to these guidelines, you always follow the instructions of the official. Not following the Move Over law can result in a fine of $120 and three points on your license. There are, however, some circumstances when drivers are unsure of just how to proceed. Many times, drivers think that they need to adhere to these practices when on a divided highway and the emergency vehicle is assisting someone going in the opposite direction. This is only the case on a two-lane road. Additionally, some drivers don’t know exactly to which type of vehicles this law applies. Although originally intended for emergency vehicles, as of July 1, 2014, the law now applies to utility service vehicles and sanitation vehicles. A good rule of thumb is to apply the law to all vehicles that are stopped along the side of the road whenever it is safe and prudent to do so.
Not understanding the proper procedures when it comes to Florida’s Move Over law can, and often does, result in accidents. It is ingrained in us from our early driving education to react when we see flashing lights. Unfortunately, that training can result in panic on the part of motorists. When you encounter such a scenario, react calmly and in a safe manner by slowing appropriately and then moving over. Slamming on your brakes or behaving indecisively can cause more harm than good. It is not uncommon for the average person to take a dim view of attorneys. Often our job requires us to do things that some people may find objectionable, such as defending someone who is guilty of committing a crime of which he or she has been accused. Even though many people don’t agree with this practice, every American citizen is entitled under the law to a legal defense. Not all of us are in this field to make the most money we can; in fact, most attorneys practice law because they believe in our justice system and want to ensure that everyone gets the fair defense to which they are entitled. That having been said, we are still human and are just as deeply moved when we hear of a tragedy as everyone else.
It is nearly impossible to follow the Move Over law correctly on South Florida’s busy highways. Additionally, you many not feel that it is safe to move over, but a law enforcement officer may feel otherwise and write you traffic ticket. If you have received a traffic ticket as the result of a violation of Florida’s Move Over law or been accused of reckless driving as the result of such a scenario, give our office a call at 954-967-9888 for a free consultation.