In January of 2002, North Carolina enacted their version of the "Move Over" Law. The law, General Statute #20-157, requires motorists who encounter a police officer or other emergency personnel on the side of the road to "move over" to an adjacent lane if it is safe to do so. Otherwise they are required to slow down in their current lane.
And starting today, July 1, 2006, this requirement will also be enforced for tow trucks and other non-law enforcement emergency vehicles.
This is to help prevent the numbers of injured and killed emergency response personnel and motorists at our state's roadsides, which are increasing every year.
The law is a good one, and as North Carolina joins other states in enacting such statutes, we should see a significant drop in the needless deaths across the state as motorists become more familiar with the law.
It is the transition into the habit that concerns me.
Any time you add a new law that affects how motorists drive, there is the possibility of the results being worse than the catastrophe they are designed to reduce, until the law is fully understood and properly practiced by the state's drivers.
The current consequence for a NC driver who fails to move to an adjacent lane if it is open or to slow down is up to $350 in fines and court costs. This can cause some motorists, particularly young drivers, to overreact and possibly to create an unsafe situation for surrounding drivers if they suddenly encounter a cop on the side of the road and are worried about breaking this law.
Cops pull over drivers every day, probably by the hundreds. That's part of their job, and it adds to the overall safety of the state's roadways.
Even the mere presence of a pulled over motorist is often enough to get others to slow down. And slow down they do. What worries me is the requirement to move over. In the ten minutes or so that a police officer has a car pulled over for some infraction, or whatever, hundreds, or even a thousand or so cars may pass alongside. It scares me to think about some of these already distracted motorists who may be fearful that the cop will jump in his cruiser, leave the ticketless motorist they had stopped, and chase them down because they hadn't moved over. So they lurch around to see if it is clear, then may make hasty decisions to cross lanes, perhaps jeopardizing their own safety, the safety of others, or ironically, the very safety of the stopped personnel and motorist!
Please don't twist my words, and believe I am saying it's a bad law. Anyone tempted to comment that they know of officers or emergency personnel who have been killed because of failure to allow sufficient space has my support and sympathy. It's a great law and I highly encourage its adherence and enforcement.
But we need to understand the law. And we need to follow best judgment on determining when it is truly safe to move over versus when it would be better to slow down.
And we need to talk to our children - today's young drivers just out of Driver's Ed - to ensure they understand the law and are prepared to follow it properly.
North Carolina's "Move Over" Law is a step in the right direction and should serve to bring additional safety to our emergency personnel as has been found in other states who have similar laws. Understand the law, and its consequences, and practice safe and responsible compliance to ensure the law can properly serve its purpose.