Editorial: Slow down, move over

It happens all too often across the country — police officers are injured — and sometimes killed — by motorists who fail to move over when the police are stopped by the side of the road. It happened a few weeks ago when state Trooper Greg Sawicki assisted a disabled motorist near I-95’s Exit 22 in Fairfield.

Sawicki’s car —with activated lights — was hit from behind by another vehicle. Both the trooper and the people in the disabled car were taken to hospitals with injuries, according to media reports. Sawicki has since been released from the hospital.

In response to that and other incidents, Fairfield police and fire personnel, state police troopers, state DOT employees, American Medical Response emergency medical technicians, representatives of the CT Towers and Recovery Association and AAA Northeast gathered at a news conference last week to raise awareness about the dangers they and others face when motorists fail to comply with the state’s Slow Down, Move Over law.

In addition to the incident that occurred with Trooper Sawicki, there were at least two other incidents involving state police and DOT vehicles. The press conference was held to highlight the need for motorists to drive responsibly at crash scenes and highway work zones.

“Connecticut’s ‘Slow Down, Move Over’ law means just that: drivers approaching one or more emergency vehicles — including police cruisers, fire trucks, ambulances, DOT vehicles and tow trucks — that are stopped or traveling significantly below the speed limit, slow down to a reasonable level below the posted speed limit and, if safe and reasonable to do so, move out of the lane closest to the emergency vehicle and give responders room to do their job.

In addition, drivers approaching one or more stationary non-emergency vehicles must, if safe and reasonable to do so, move out of the lane closest to the stationary vehicle.

When driving on local roads, many of which are narrow and curvy, it’s just as important to be alert and considerate of emergency vehicles pulled off to the shoulder, as well as utility trucks, surveryors and others who work along our roadways. Using a cell phone, running a stop sign, driving while impaired and other forms of risky behavior only increase the chances of a tragedy occurring.

According to the Emergency Responder Safety Institute, a national advisory group of public safety and transportation experts, an average of six to eight fire and EMS workers are killed working in or near moving traffic each year, as are nearly a dozen police officers. The number is even higher for tow truck operators — 50 — the institute says. It doesn’t break out how many of those cases involved people who were struck because of move over violations, but you get the idea.

Every state has a Slow Down, Move Over law. However, according to research done by AAA, 71 percent of Americans are not aware of such laws. How many people ignore them? Although the most publicized incidents involve state police, AAA Northeast tow truck drivers have also experienced close calls, with at least one employee seriously injured two years ago.

Moving over for emergency responders can cause traffic jams, and that’s an inconvenience. But it is a small price to pay for the safety of the people who pledge to keep us safe.

Connecticut’s Move Over law was passed in 2009 to protect drivers of emergency vehicles who assist disabled motorists on state roads. Fines range up to $2,500 if injuries are caused; and up to $10,000 if deaths result. That’s a big price to pay for being uninformed or not paying attention. But the person who is injured or killed pays a bigger price.