HIAWATHA, Iowa- More than ten years ago, Iowa made it a law to move over or slow down when approaching emergency vehicles at the side of the road. But emergency responders who gathered for a Move Over, Slow Down kickoff event in Hiawatha on Tuesday say a lot of drivers still don't grasp that safety concept.
Iowa's first Move Over, Slow Down last passed in 2002. The law was expanded in 2012 to require drivers to give tow truck drivers the same extra room as they would police, fire or ambulance vehicles. Minimum fines also doubled to $100.
Iowa Governor Terry Branstad signed a proclamation last week to reemphasize the need for drivers to give emergency responders more room while dealing with problems on the roadways. The tightening of the law occurred after an incident in September of 2011 in which a semi driver ran into a disabled truck on the side of I-80 in Poweshiek County. Two tow truck drivers, the disabled semi driver and the driver who failed to move over all died in the resulting accident.
Hanifan Towing of Des Moines is the company that lost the two drivers in 2011. Owner Julie Hanifan said after that fatal accident, some motorists were more careful. But that didn't last.
"The first couple of weeks and months after our accident, my drivers said yes people were moving over. Over a period of time, they discontinued that practice," Hanifan said.
Carmela Darrah-Chiafos, owner of Darrah's Towing in Hiawatha, organized the event to reemphasize the Move Over, Slow Down campaign. She agreed with Hanifan that it's not an automatic response for many motorists.
"I don't believe it has made a difference yet which is why we're working so hard on this campaign," Darrah-Chiafos said.
Both towing company owners said practically every tow truck driver has a story about a close call at the side of the road. But working roadways is also dangerous for law enforcement. At least 18 officers nationwide died in 2008 after being struck and killed by passing vehicles.
Sgt. Sharon Kurt of the Iowa State Patrol said it's a particular problem for officers who work a lot of scenes on highways.
"We've had so many officers in the past 3-4 years who've been struckthankfully not killed, but injured at the same time," Sgt. Kurt said.
Sgt. Kurt reminded motorists that while the minimum fine is $100, fines do increase for subsequent offenses. And anyone who fails to property move over or slow down when seeing flashing lights and causes an accident can lose a license for up to 90 days.
Linn County Sheriff Brian Gardner said officers will write tickets for any violators they see. But it's often difficult to stop people who fail to follow that law. The sheriff says the officer who usually witnesses the violation is often working an accident scene and can't leave to give chase. In a year, the Linn County Sheriff's Office usually averages about a dozen tickets for failing to properly move over or slow down for emergency workers.