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PRINCE GEORGE’S COUNTY, MD (September 29, 2022) – Roadside workers – including law enforcement officers, road construction crews, and tow truck operators – spend much of their work days mere feet away from speeding traffic, putting their lives on the line to keep our roadways and vehicle drivers and passengers safe.
Today, AAA Mid-Atlantic, MD Department of Transportation Officials, Police and State legislators came together to talk about the importance of Slow Down, Move Over laws, as well as the expansion of Maryland’s law, which takes effect this Saturday, October 1.
Sadly, despite every state in the country having some form of Move Over law on the books, roadside workers and rescuers, as well as law enforcement officers continue to be struck by vehicles and injured or killed at an alarming rate.
This year, in an effort to further strengthen Maryland’s Slow Down Move Over law, lawmakers passed Senate Bill (SB) 147/Chapter 382 - Motor Vehicles – Operation When Approaching Stopped, Standing, or Parked Vehicles, which was sponsored by Senator Jeff Waldstreicher (D, District 18, Montgomery County), who also serves as Vice Chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee.
The bill requires a driver approaching a stopped, standing, or parked vehicle displaying hazard warning lights, road flares or other caution signals, from the rear to make a lane change into an available lane, not immediately adjacent to the vehicle, or to slow to a reasonable and prudent speed that is safe. Prior state law applied only to emergency vehicles, tow trucks, and service vehicles. However, passage of SB 147/Chapter 382 expands the state’s Slow Down, Move Over law, to cover all vehicles displaying hazard lights on the side of the road.
“This was AAA Mid-Atlantic’s primary legislative priority this year and the auto club applauds the Maryland General Assembly for passing this important piece of legislation to protect motorists at the roadside,” said Ragina Cooper Ali, Public and Government Affairs Manager for AAA Mid-Atlantic in Maryland and Washington, D.C. “We are also especially grateful to Senator Waldstreicher and Delegate Healey for their leadership in sponsoring the measure, to Governor Larry Hogan for signing the bill into law and for the continued partnership with the MD Department of Transportation to educate drivers about these laws. The expanded law will save lives on our roadways and reduce the confusion or lack of knowledge drivers have regarding the law.”
According to the Emergency Responder Safety Institute, 65 traffic incident management responders were killed due to roadside collisions across the United States in 2021. And, the Towing & Recovery Association of America reports that a towing technician loses his or her life every six days on America's roadways.
Nationally, between 2013 and 2020, work zone fatalities increased 45%. In 2020, over 102,000 work zone crashes were estimated to have occurred, resulting in over 45,000 injuries and 857 fatalities, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.
Here in Maryland, since 2019, 38 MDOT SHA Coordinated Highways Action Response Team vehicles have been struck by motorists while responding to incidents. “Moving over, or slowing down, isn’t much to ask to help keep everyone on our roads safe,” said Maryland Transportation Secretary James F. Ports, Jr. “MDOT stands with AAA to remind all drivers that Maryland’s Move Over Law is expanding once again, this time to include all motorists on the side of the road.”
In fact, earlier this month, Richard Reeves, an MDOT SHA Emergency Response Technician had a close call when his vehicle was struck while he was assisting a motorist on the side of the road. “The highway is my office, and throughout my shift, I respond to disabled motorists, clear hazardous debris and stalled vehicles from travel lanes, and assist with crash cleanup, all with little protection from high-speed traffic,” said Reeves. “My goal is to get home safely each day, so please move over if you can, or slow down to a safe speed.”
In a 2021 AAA poll of Maryland first responders, including law enforcement, EMS, tow truck drivers and roadside workers, more than 90% of those surveyed said that they personally have been involved in a near miss incident or had their life threatened because a motorist failed to move over.
Not only are tow providers and other emergency responders being killed on the side of the road, motorists are as well. Hundreds of people are killed and thousands are injured each year in crashes involving stopped or disabled vehicles, according to a study by transportation data analysis firm, Impact Research. In reviewing federal crash statistics, it is estimated that 566 people were killed and 14,371 injured each year over 2016-18 in crashes on all types of roads involving a disabled vehicle in which visibility was likely a factor.
Sadly, several motorists tending to disabled vehicles have been killed on the side of the road here, in Maryland. Kennedy Sookal, of Reisterstown, and Stuart Johnson, of Baltimore, were both killed in separate incidents in 2019, as they tried to change a tire on the side of the road.
Passage of this law makes Maryland one of only eight states with a provision to protect motorists. Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee currently include vehicles on the roadside in their Move Over laws.
“I was honored to sponsor this life-saving measure on behalf of AAA Mid-Atlantic and Maryland motorists,” said Senator Jeff Waldstreicher. “Tragically, the number of incidents where motorists with disabled vehicles are injured or killed on the side of the road, or when first responders are struck while serving others, continues to increase.”
Driver Knowledge of and Compliance with Move Over Laws
Despite the nationwide presence of Move Over laws, startling data from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety finds that among drivers who do not comply with Move Over laws at all times:
• 42% thought this behavior was somewhat or not dangerous at all to roadside emergency workers. This demonstrates that drivers may not realize how risky it is for those working or stranded along highways and roads closed to moving traffic.
• Nearly a quarter of those surveyed (23%) are unaware of the Move Over law in the state where they live.
• Among those who are aware of their state's Move Over laws, about 15% report not understanding the potential consequences for violating the Move Over law at all.
A 2021 AAA Mid-Atlantic poll of Maryland and Washington, D.C. drivers found a similar lack of understanding or awareness:
• 32% of Maryland drivers polled indicated they were ‘unsure’ or thought there was ‘no’ Move Over law in the state.
• 57% of Washington, D.C. drivers polled indicated they were ‘unsure’ or thought there was ‘no’ Move Over law in the District.
Being on the side of the road is dangerous for everyone. Even those who the law is already intended to protect are not exempt from the perils on the road.
Tragically, the AAA family is all too familiar with the dangers at the roadside. A few months ago, sixty-nine-year-old Anthony Okozi was helping a member who had run out of fuel on Route 50 in Bowie when he was struck and killed. Last year, AAA contractor, Muhammad Shehzad, was killed on the side of the road in Howard County, after changing the tire of a AAA member. Also, last year, AAA’s Glenn Ewing, 32, was killed near Cincinnati, OH, while placing a disabled vehicle on the back of a flatbed on the side of the road. “These are heart-breaking reminders of the daily dangers that those who conduct business on the roadside face,” Ali said. “Adding motorists who are stopped, standing, or parked on the side of the road, displaying emergency flashers to the law will provide drivers, as well as emergency personnel, who may be aiding them with additional protections.”
Despite on-going public education efforts, motorists routinely indicate that they are either unaware of state laws that require them to slow down and/or move over for emergency vehicles or that they are uncertain which groups or types of vehicles apply. SB 147 simplifies the law, reducing confusion, so that caution must be extended to anyone with flashing lights in a stationary vehicle on the roadside.
“All law enforcement officers understand the importance of safety when assisting motorists, while on the scene of a crash, or while enforcing the motor vehicles laws on our highways,” said Maryland Transportation Authority Police Chief, Kevin Anderson, who was also a proponent of the expanded law. “However, we need every driver to do their part and move over or slow down when approaching any vehicle stopped on the shoulder. Although law enforcement will issue citations for failing to move over or slow down, we would rather get this message out through our education efforts, so that all drivers help save lives on our highways,” Chief Anderson added.
A cross-filed version of the bill, House Bill (HB) 105 – Motor Vehicles – Operation When Approaching Stopped, Standing, or Parked Vehicles, was also sponsored this year by Delegate Anne Healey (D, District 22, Prince George’s County. “This law will protect the lives of motorists who get stranded on the side of the road and are waiting for help. I was proud to introduce it this year,” said Delegate Healey.
In the AAA Mid-Atlantic poll, 84% of Maryland drivers surveyed indicated they would support Move Over laws that protect motorists with disabled vehicles. AAA, along with our industry and traffic safety partners, is committed to raising awareness around this critical issue that continues to tragically claim the lives of first responders and motorists dealing with disabled vehicles.
To protect roadside workers, drivers with disabled vehicles, and others, and to improve highway safety, AAA and the Maryland Highway Safety Office offer these precautionary tips:
• Remain alert, avoid distractions and focus on the task of driving.
• Keep an eye out for situations where emergency vehicles, tow trucks, utility service vehicles or disabled vehicles are stopped on the side of the road.
• When you see these situations, slow down and if possible move one lane over and away from the people and vehicles stopped at the side of the road.
Slow Down Move Over Resources:
AAA Slow Down Move Over PSA