December 16, 2013

Maine State Police call on drivers to give them space

A law requiring drivers to move over and slow down when passing an emergency vehicle is often ignored.

By Craig Crosby
Staff Writer

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MOVE OVER: State Trooper Robert Cjeka was trapped in his cruiser in March 2011 after his vehicle was rear ended by an empty logging truck while stopped on the side of the road in Livermore Falls. Police are renewing calls for motorists to slow down and move over when approaching an emergency vehicle after several State Police cruisers were struck in recent weeks. Cjeka escaped serious injury.

State Police photo

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Trooper Sam Tlumac inspects his cruiser Monday morning after it was rear-ended on Route 202 in Manchester. Tlumac was assisting a motorist around 10 a.m. when a pickup struck the rear of his vehicle while it was parked on the side of the road. No injuries were reported. The state cruiser was a loaner after Tlumac’s primary vehicle was destroyed when it was rear ended Dec. 1 in Pittsfield. State law requires motorists to move over one lane when passing troopers and other emergency vehicles parked on the side of the road.

Staff Photo by Andy Molloy

Additional Photos Below

The 2007 “move over” law

The move over law, which was passed in 2007, is as follows:

The operator of a vehicle passing a stationary authorized emergency vehicle using an emergency light or a stationary wrecker using its authorized lights, with due regard to the safety and traffic conditions, shall:

A. Pass in a lane not adjacent to that of the authorized emergency vehicle or wrecker, if possible; or

B. If passing in a nonadjacent lane is impossible or unsafe, pass the emergency vehicle or wrecker at a careful and prudent speed reasonable for passing the authorized emergency vehicle or wrecker safely.

A violation of this subsection is a traffic infraction for which a minimum fine of $250 must be adjudged.

“Authorized emergency vehicle” means any one of the following vehicles:

An ambulance;

A Baxter State Park Authority vehicle operated by a Baxter State Park ranger;

A Bureau of Marine Patrol vehicle operated by a coastal warden;

A Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry vehicle operated by a forest ranger;

A Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry vehicle used for forest fire control;

A Department of Corrections vehicle used for responding to the escape of or performing the high-security transfer of a prisoner, juvenile client or juvenile detainee;

A Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife vehicle operated by a warden;

A Department of Public Safety vehicle operated by a police officer appointed pursuant to Title 25, section 2908, a state fire investigator or a Maine Drug Enforcement Agency officer;

An emergency medical service vehicle;

A fire department vehicle;

A hazardous material response vehicle, including a vehicle designed to respond to a weapon of mass destruction;

A railroad police vehicle;

A sheriff’s department vehicle;

A State Police or municipal police department vehicle;

A vehicle operated by a chief of police, a sheriff or a deputy sheriff when authorized by the sheriff;

A vehicle operated by a municipal fire inspector, a municipal fire chief, an assistant or deputy chief or a town forest fire warden;

A vehicle operated by a qualified deputy sheriff or other qualified individual to perform court security-related functions and services as authorized by the State Court Administrator pursuant to Title 4, section 17, subsection 15;

A Federal Government vehicle operated by a federal law enforcement officer;

A vehicle operated by a municipal rescue chief, deputy chief or assistant chief;

An Office of the Attorney General vehicle operated by a detective appointed pursuant to Title 5, section 202;

A Department of the Secretary of State vehicle operated by a motor vehicle investigator; and

A University of Maine System vehicle operated by a University of Maine System police officer.


The law also applies to secondary roads. Hayden said drivers should, when there is clear visibility and obviously no traffic, move over into the oncoming lane while driving around a parked emergency vehicle with its light flashing.

When it is impossible to safely switch lanes — Hayden said that should be a rarity on limited access highways like Interstate 95 and the turnpike — the law requires drivers to slow to a “prudent” speed. While not specified in the law, Rogers and Hayden agreed on the interstate or turnpike that prudent speed is around 45 mph.

The law requires drivers, in all situations, to use “due regard to the safety and traffic conditions.” That means slowing and giving vehicles as much room as is safely possible, Rogers said. Any sign that the driver sees the emergency vehicle is helpful, Rogers said. During one traffic stop last week, Rogers looked in his mirror as a tractor trailer tried unsuccessfully to pull into the passing lane.

“At least he acknowledged I’m here and that he can see me,” Rogers said. “That’s comforting.

“We accept there are risks,” he said. “Anything the public can do to help minimize that risk is appreciated. Moving your car to the next lane can do that.”

Hayden said the law is difficult to enforce because the offenses usually occur as police are responding to an emergency or involved in a traffic stop, but drivers who fail to slow down and move face a $250 fine that increases to $311 after surcharges and other fees. The law applies to various types of emergency vehicles, including fire trucks, ambulances and wreckers.

“When you see emergency lights up ahead, you’re really not sure what’s up there,” Hayden said. “The law is there for people to think. People are busy and have a lot on their minds. Just look up ahead.”

Rogers said the majority of the time when he is parked with his lights flashing, there will be at least one driver who ignores the law to move over and slow down. During one traffic stop for speeding last week on Interstate 295, a total of 20 cars either failed to move into the passing lane or slow their speed while passing Rogers’ cruiser. There were 15 such drivers on the next stop. One of those cars passed close enough to Rogers as he walked back to his cruiser that he altered his path to try and create additional space.

The vast majority of offenders are driving cars and pickup trucks. Professional drivers, those operating tractor trailers and large trucks, tend to be diligent in their adherence to the move over law, Rogers said.

“Truck drivers are generally pretty good about it,” he said.

Rogers was taking part in a speed detail with three other troopers near the West Gardiner toll plaza. A number of cars that Rogers pulled over stopped in the same area as two other troopers as they were working a traffic stop. In those instances, where there was a line of cruisers with lights flashing, the number of cars that failed to move over fell to just a handful.

“These details aren’t the norm,” Rogers said. “If you’re out here for a regular shift, you’re going to be the only one all the time.”

One of the drivers who blew by Rogers’ cruiser as he was completing paperwork from a traffic stop he pulled over. The driver said she thought the law required her to slow down. She didn’t know she had to move to a nonadjacent lane.

“Most of the time the response we get is they didn’t know,” Rogers said. “I don’t think they’re generally doing it to scare us or put us in danger.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

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Additional Photos

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CLOSE CALL: Maine State Trooper Chris Rogers holds on to his Stetson Thursday as a tractor-trailer passes him during a traffic stop in West Gardiner. Several State Police cruisers have been struck while parked at accidents this year, compelling police to remind drivers that they must slow down and pull over when approaching emergency vehicles.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

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SAFETY FIRST: A car drives past Maine State Trooper Chris Rogers during a traffic stop Thursday in West Gardiner. Several State Police cruisers have been struck while parked at accidents this year, compelling police to remind drivers that they must slow down and pull over when approaching emergency vehicles.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy


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