Move over when passing emergency vehicles on highways

A new, tougher law took effect Jan. 1. State troopers have started issuing $248 tickets to those who violate the law.

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It should be obvious to any driver - move over and slow down when passing an emergency vehicle that is parked on the side of the highway with lights flashing.

Yet, it doesn't always happen. In fact, problems created by speeding motorists driving too close to emergency vehicles had become such a problem that the "Move Over" law was approved by the Legislature in 2007.

The law wasn't tough enough.

Over the past three years the problem has gotten worse. The Washington State Patrol reported 80 collisions involving passing vehicles striking trooper vehicles parked along the highway. State Patrol officials said the major contributing factors were speeding and driving while intoxicated.

So now the Legislature - and the State Patrol - are getting tougher.

Lawmakers approved an enhanced "Move Over" law that went into effect on Jan. 1. The law creates a 200-foot emergency zone around any pulled-over emergency vehicle with flashing lights. This includes police cars, fire and emergency medical service vehicles, tow trucks and Washington State Department of Transportation rigs. And the basic fine for violating the law has doubled.

Scofflaws who go flying past a state trooper who is writing a ticket to someone else will end up with a ticket of their own - a $248 ticket.

For the first three months of the year, troopers have been issuing warnings as they have been trying to educate the public about the new law. But, as of Friday, they are serious. Tickets will be issued.

State Trooper Julie Startup told Seattle's KIRO radio that drivers are already starting to get the message.

"I'm definitely seeing a traffic flow change when I approach an emergency vehicle," she said. "You'll see the vehicles start to slow. People start turning on their turn indicators. It's obvious that it's making an impact. People are much more aware than they were of what's going on and what we're requesting of them."

Let's hope so.

It's dangerous enough being a state trooper without having to worry about being slammed into by speeding motorists.

When you see emergency lights on the roadway give the trooper or emergency personnel a wide birth - at least 200 feet - and slow down.

It is not only the right thing to do, but it could save you $248.

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