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Virginia Move Over

Virginia’s ‘Move Over’ law has gotten tougher. What drivers need to know.

First Responders put themselves on the line when attending roadway emergencies | GregDPhotos / Shutterstock.com

This is the third part of a series aimed at helping Virginians become (even) better drivers.

When first responders are called to the scene of a car accident, it’s not just the well-being of the crash victims they have to worry about, but also their own safety. To help keep paramedics, police, and firefighters safer on the job, Virginia passed a Move Over law in 2002, which requires drivers to proceed with caution and change lanes, if possible given the traffic conditions, to give a wider berth to any stationary emergency vehicle with flashing lights. If changing lanes is impractical, then the driver must proceed with due caution and at a safe speed.

Lt. Brad Clark of Hanover County Fire-EMS was killed on October 11th 2018. He was attending an accident on I-295, when a tractor-trailer rear-ended the stationary fire truck. | Hanover County Fire-EMS Department / Facebook @HanoverFireEMS1

After last year’s roadside death of Lt. Brad Clark, a Hanover County firefighter who was on the scene of a car crash, the Virginia General Assembly moved to strengthen the Move Over law.

Help us to amplify the conversation and remind someone to Move Over today.

The amendment to Move Over, which took effect on July 1st, 2019, increases the punishment for violators, and expands the definition of emergency personnel. Under the revised statute, a violation of any provision of the law concerning emergency personnel is now considered Reckless Driving, which is a class 1 misdemeanor that can be punished by up to a year in jail and/or a fine of $2,500. And while the original law was specifically designed to protect first responders — paramedics, police officers, and firefighters — the amended move-over requirement now includes other service providers when they’re working in an emergency capacity, such as DOT workers and tow truck drivers, who put themselves at risk whenever they’re responding to an urgent situation on our highways and roadways.

Tips for driving near emergency vehicles

Real life driving situations with emergency vehicles can be confusing, but if you remember the basics — move over, slow down — you’ll never go wrong. It’s a good idea to follow this advice any time you see something on the shoulder of the road, even if you don’t see flashing lights. Keep a careful eye out for any personnel on the roadway, and if there is someone directing traffic be sure to follow their directions. Having to slow down when you are on your way somewhere can be inconvenient, but it could avert a tragedy, and it’s the law.

Even with this law on the books, being at the scene of a car accident is still dangerous for emergency responders, especially with the recent epidemic of cell phone use while driving. The National Safety Council reports that 71% of drivers take a photo when they see an emergency vehicle stopped on the side of the road! Needless to say, if you’re taking a photo you can’t be focused on driving, and you’re putting everyone else at risk, including the First Responders. The message of the new, stronger Move Over law is clear: if you see flashing lights, slow down, pay attention, check to see if you can reasonably change lanes (without risking a crash!) and be prepared to stop. And, as with all driving, do not look at your phone!

Some Virginians may still be unaware or unsure about the Move Over law, and we’re committed to helping get the word out about how important it is to follow the law and keep roadside first responders — and everyone else on the road — safe. Help us to amplify the conversation and remind someone to Move Over today!

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