Deadly Reminder: Move Over for Emergency Responders

By Dave Franzman, Reporter

Photo for the Johnson County Health series. Johnson County Ambulance on a medical call in Iowa City on Friday, Sept. 22, 2000.

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By Lisa Kunkel

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - A deadly wreck Monday on Highway 30 near the Williams Blvd. SW exit brought up a frequent complaint from officers and emergency responders who work accident scenes. That complaint was, once again, drivers who whiz by the flashing lights without moving over or slowing down to give emergency responders room to work on the roadside safely.

Iowa passed a “move over or slow down” law in 2002. There’s even a national group called “Move Over, America” that promotes laws to protect officers working on the side of busy highways. The national group notes that most states have similar laws to Iowa’s with rules in place for 43 out of 50 states. However, when the group commissioned a national poll on the issue, 71% of those surveyed had not heard of “move over” laws.

Officers who work scenes at busy roads say it’s a fairly simple concept. If you approach an accident scene or see any flashing lights, you’re required to immediately move to an adjoining lane away from the activity or slow down below the speed limit. Two drivers stopping at an I-380 rest stop actually got it right when questioned about the rule.

Iowa trucker Dan Svoboda responded when asked “get over in the left lane or slow down—that’s about it.” And a Minnesota driver, Demario Jives, responded “you’re supposed to get over to the next lane.”

But officers say it’s a safety concept that often gets overlooked even though warning signs about “move over” laws are sprinkled along the divided highways. In September of 2011, someone who ignored the rules caused multiple deaths when four people, including two tow truck drivers, were struck and killed while working on the side of the road in Poweshiek County. Over the years, tow truck drivers have constantly complained about drivers who ignore the rule. And the “move over” rule applies to non-emergency vehicles such as tow trucks and even DOT vehicles.

Lt. Randy Jones, commander of the Iowa State Patrol District 11 post, said “it seems to happen way too frequently. People should be aware of the law. Slow down and move over for approaching emergency vehicles. And when they see lights flashing on the road, they should be aware something’s going on.”

Lt. Jones said the biggest problem is four lane roads where speeds are higher. Iowa’s “move over” law started out with a simple $50 fine. But last July, a law change added a minimum $100 fine. Fines increase to $500 if someone not moving out of the way of emergency vehicle causes property damage and $1,000 if such a driver causes a death. For the first time, the law also includes a possible license suspension for violators.
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