Larger fines should help to protect troopers

Too many motorists have been speeding too close to troopers and other emergency personnel along state highways.

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When a state trooper has somebody pulled over along the highway or a tow-truck driver is hooking up a car, it's easy to see. Lights are flashing. And when most of us see those bright flashing lights on the side of the roadway, we move over to the left lane or, if there is only one lane in, we slow down - way down - and carefully pass to the left of the emergency vehicles.

It just makes sense. But it's also the law.

Unfortunately, too many motorists have been ignoring the law - and common sense. Law enforcement officials have become increasingly concerned for their safety and the safety of others as motorist after motorist has zoomed by in the right lane, driving at or above the speed limit.

As a result, the Legislature has put some sharper teeth into the law that creates emergency zones 200 feet in front and behind emergency vehicles. Starting on Jan. 1, drivers who speed past emergency vehicles stopped on state highways or drive too close to emergency personnel will have to pay a much larger fine. Speeding fines in the emergency zones will double, and fines for failing to slow down and safely move over will increase from $124 to $248, according to the Washington State Patrol.

"This gives the law a little bit more bite," State Patrol Capt. Steve Burns said this week.

Let's hope drivers get the message before someone is injured or killed.

The original "Move Over Law" was approved in 2007 and went into effect in 2008. In the law's first year, 30 State Patrol cars were hit by motorists on state highways. The next year, 2009, another 28 State Patrol vehicles were hit. And that's just the State Patrol,

In the past 18 months or so, state troopers contacted stopped 2,940 drivers and issued 592 citations under the "Move Over Law."

Given the number of collisions occurring between clueless drivers and emergency vehicles, these stops aren't getting through to motorists.

Doubling the fine to $248 - and making sure all drivers know that's what it will cost them - isn't going to slow every knucklehead down, but it should resonate with most drivers. But if the problem persists, lawmakers need to take even tougher action.

Emergency personnel put their lives on the line to protect the public in a variety of situations, they shouldn't have to risk their lives in routine traffic stops or when helping stranded motorists.

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