The text below is the relevant parts of North Carolina General Statute 20-157 that defines North Carolina’s “Move Over” Law. I have highlighted certain phrases I’ll expand upon later in this post. But first, read what the Statute requires:
(f) When an authorized emergency vehicle as described in subsection (a) of this section or any public service vehicle is parked or standing within 12 feet of a roadway and is giving a warning signal by appropriate light, the driver of every other approaching vehicle shall, as soon as it is safe and when not otherwise directed by an individual lawfully directing traffic, do one of the following:
(1) Move the vehicle into a lane that is not the lane nearest the parked or standing authorized emergency vehicle or public service vehicle and continue traveling in that lane until safely clear of the authorized emergency vehicle. This paragraph applies only if the roadway has at least two lanes for traffic proceeding in the direction of the approaching vehicle and if the approaching vehicle may change lanes safely and without interfering with any vehicular traffic.
(2) Slow the vehicle, maintaining a safe speed for traffic conditions, and operate the vehicle at a reduced speed and be prepared to stop until completely past the authorized emergency vehicle or public service vehicle. This paragraph applies only if the roadway has only one lane for traffic proceeding in the direction of the approaching vehicle or if the approaching vehicle may not change lanes safely and without interfering with any vehicular traffic.
I’m no lawyer, but here’s how I interpret the statute:
If you’re on a highway with two lanes going in each direction and you approach the cop on the side of the road, the law states that you must move over into the next lane if you may do so “safely and without interfering with any vehicular traffic.” If you cannot move over, (or if you’re on a two lane highway – one lane going in each direction,) you’re to slow down, “maintaining a safe speed for traffic conditions,” until you’re past the officer.
So basically the law requires drivers who come upon the officer to make a sudden judgment as to the safety of moving over. If the driver deems it unsafe, they’re to slow down.
So here we go. I’m out on the highway and just as I crest a hill, I see a cop who has pulled over another driver. Within a timeframe of about three seconds, I must say to myself, “OK, is that officer 12 feet from the roadway? He looks to be thirteen feet, but it might be eleven, so I’m going to Move Over. But wait! Is it Safe to do so? I’ve just crested a hill and there may be a motorcyclist zipping along at a good clip and I might Interfere with him if I Move Over. So I guess I will slow down and Maintain a Safe speed for traffic conditions. "For traffic conditions?" What the hell does that mean? I’m guessing it means they don’t want me to suddenly slow from 65 to 25, specially since it’s now raining, lest I should be rear-ended and cause even more Interference. But the guy behind me is speeding towards me and there’s that damned bike right next to him. He can’t Move Over without causing Interference with the motorcycle, and I don’t feel Safe to Move Over, so I think I can slow to about 55. Well, wait a second. I guess the point is moot because now I am being pulled over. I wonder what for? Couldn’t be for speeding ‘cause I was doing 55 in a 70 mph zone.
Me: “Your Honor, it just didn’t feel safe to move over.”
Officer: “It was safe, Your Honor”
Hold on. Doesn’t the law specifically state that I am to Move Over “as soon as it is safe”? Isn’t that up to my judgment??
North Carolina’s Move Over law has good intentions, and will certainly help to reduce incidents of officers and emergency personnel being hit by passing motorists. I’m just worried that it might cause law-abiding drivers to make sudden, unfortunate decisions while trying to follow that law.