The death of a AAA worker giving roadside assistance in Bowie, Maryland, Tuesday night was a grim reminder for people to be aware of and respect “move over” laws.
These laws require motorists to slow down and move into lanes farther away from emergency vehicles on the road if they are able to do so safely.
Anthony Okozi, 69, had his vehicle’s hazard lights on and was wearing a reflective vest when he was fatally struck by a passing vehicle.
“The laws do apply in all 50 states and D.C, as far as law enforcement, fire and EMS. Beyond those emergency vehicles is where you have the differences by state, as far as which vehicles fall under that particular law,” said John Marshall, director of Safety Programs with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
“It’s unfortunate that we need a law for these kinds of situations; everybody should drive in such a manner as to be looking out for each other. And when you see a vehicle stopped ahead of you on the side of the road, whether it’s a first responder or just a motorist that’s broken down, we should all practice slowing down and moving over,” Marshall said.
On multilane highways, Marshall recommends that even motorists in lanes farthest away from the potential hazard have raised awareness about vehicles that could be transitioning toward their direction. The cascading impact of crashes on numbers of vehicles can be far reaching.
“If everybody is paying attention and everybody is being aware of their surroundings and reacting accordingly … everyone can do their part to make it safer, not only for the people on the side of the road, not only for the first responders, but also for the people that might be in the vehicle stopped on the side of the road and for other drivers,” Marshall said. “Just imagine that’s your family and what you would want people to do; you would want them to slow down. You’d want them to move over; you would want them to be careful.”
In October, Maryland’s law will be changed to require moving over for all drivers on the side of the road, which Marshall calls “a good thing.”
A 2019 public opinion poll on first responder safety done by the National Safety Council found 67% of people knew about the law — which means one out of three didn’t.
“So, we’re making an impact as far as raising awareness of the laws. Now, if we can just get people to obey them,” Marshall said. “And really, the messages on the ‘move over’ laws is — it’s not only the right thing to do, it’s the law.”
Marshall’s quick tips for motorists before getting behind the wheel:
- Buckle up.
- Avoid distractions.
- Don’t drive impaired.
- Obey the speed limit and other traffic laws.
- Drive as if your life and the lives of others on the road depends upon it because they all do.
“You need to remember that every time you get behind the wheel, it’s a very serious thing that you’re doing, and you need to be safe. You need to be focused on the task at hand.”
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