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Law requires drivers to move away from stationery emergency vehicles
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Since July 1, 2007, California has had a traffic law that requires motorists who, while driving on freeways, make a lane change into an available lane, or slow down to a "safe" speed when approaching any stationary law enforcement vehicle, ambulance, fire vehicle or tow truck if their emergency or warning lights are activated. Effective Jan. 1, 2010, this traffic law was renewed and amended by the California Sate Legislature to extend the same protections for Caltrans state vehicles. The 2007 version of this law still has not become well-known, and even fewer motorists are aware that now Caltrans vehicles have been included as well. For the specifics of the California "Move Over Law," you can research California Vehicle Code Section 21809(a) online.

It is interesting that the law specifically refers to "freeways," while appearing to exclude city or county roads. This may change, however, if any court decisions determine that the intent of the law was to create safety margins for all multiple lane roads. That, of course, remains to be seen. It should also be noted that while the vehicle code specifically refers to various vehicles covered by the law, it is about safety for the people associated with those vehicles.

Each year, there are many incidents where inattentive, reckless or DUI motorists strike Caltrans, police, and tow vehicles. Motorists also crash into stationary ambulances and fire engines parked along freeways, but they are less vulnerable because once ambulances and fire trucks are at a scene, traffic has usually been halted or rerouted. Caltrans, tow trucks and police vehicles are more likely to be engaged in "routine" activities with regular traffic passing by as if there were no serious incident.

It is quite common for CHP vehicles to be rear-ended while the officer is assisting a motorist, issuing a citation, or making an arrest. The problem is severe enough that the agency is constantly evaluating how their officers position their vehicles during traffic stops and looking for the ideal warning light system to help reduce the number of occasions that their vehicles are crashed into. Sadly, there have been occasions when a CHP officer has been struck by an errant motorist, and if the officers are lucky enough to survive, they can end up with crippling injuries.

The basic fine for violating the move over law is $50, but with added court and administrative fees, the total can be much higher. If a motorist violates this law and collides with one of the vehicles (or persons) the law is trying to protect, the civil and possible criminal penalties can be severe.

I am hoping that this column serves as a notice or reminder that the move over law exists, and that safety on our freeways is important. Our roadways are in poor condition, traffic is continuously congested, and there are many reckless or intoxicated motorists on our roadways, so anything each of us can do to make things a bit less dangerous is well worth it. I wish you all safe motoring.