Update on ‘Move Over’ Laws

Florida police agencies recently stepped up enforcement of the state’s “Move Over” law by setting up sting operations on roadways throughout the Sunshine State, including in a state park where nearly two dozen unsuspecting motorists were ensnared.

The Florida sting is simple: A police officer parks his cruiser on the side of the road and turns on the emergency lights. Another officer monitors drivers as they pass. If motorists don’t move over into the far lane, or slow down enough, they are stopped and given a $165 ticket.

In addition to the Florida news, emails describing Move Over stings have once again been circulating around the Internet, so we thought an update was in order.

Move Over laws essentially require motorists traveling on multi-lane roads to move over one lane for a designated emergency vehicle on the side of the highway. If it is unsafe to move over then motorists must slow down significantly while passing. The intent is to decrease the risk to police officers and other roadway workers. Hawaii was the last state to enact a Move Over law in July 2012, leaving only Washington, D.C. without such a law.

Specific provisions and penalties vary significantly from state to state. Here in Wisconsin not moving over will cost you $260 and three points on your driver’s license. In Alabama fines range from $25-$100. In Virginia failure to move over is a class 1 misdemeanor, carrying a $2,500 fine and possible jail time. Check here for more information on the law in your state.

And don’t think you only have to move over for police or emergency vehicles. The laws have evolved to include tow trucks, utility vehicles, official vehicles and highway machinery. Again, check the law for your state to see what vehicles you have to watch out for.

We don’t question the hazards faced by police and others who work along our nation’s highways, and we don’t question the need for all motorists to drive in a safe and responsible manner. But we do question the effectiveness of these kinds of laws. When the NMA has contacted supporters of Move Over laws asking for evidence of their benefits, none has ever been forthcoming.

We also realize that Move Over laws may actually lead to more traffic safety incidents than they create. Jim Baxter hammered this point home in this blog from 2007. It’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which a Move Over sting operation actually creates the kinds of hazards the law is meant to prevent.

History shows that heavy-handed enforcement efforts designed to entrap motorists (think speed traps and red-light cameras) have little positive impact on driver behavior. Consider this: 71 percent of Americans aren’t even aware that Move Over laws exist. This points to a need for public awareness campaigns along with enforcement that’s focused on driver education and warnings—not stings and traps.

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