ROANOKE, Va. – Virginia lawmakers are renewing their push to protect first responders on the commonwealth’s highways. They’re considering increasing the penalties for not following the Move Over law.
Police, emergency crews and other workers who spend time on the side of the road are saying they’re continuing to experience problems with drivers not following the law.
Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Kirk Cox has proposed a bill for the current legislative session, which he discussed Monday.
The Move Over law, which is already in effect, states that drivers have to change lanes to give more space for official vehicles working on the side of the road. The law applies to police, emergency crews, tow trucks and transportation workers. It requires drivers to slow down drastically if they’re unable to move over.
The bill would make a first offense come with a reckless driving violation -- a class 1 misdemeanor that means the driver could spend up to a year in jail or pay a fine up to $2,500. Right now, a first offense carries a fine up to $250 and the reckless driving designation comes on a second violation.
10 News has covered many events in the last year where first responders have either been hit or nearly hit while on the side of the road.
Earlier this month, a Bedford County sheriff’s deputy vehicle with a K-9 officer inside was hit on Route 460, and last year, a trooper in his cruiser barely avoided a collision during a traffic stop on Interstate 581 near Valley View Mall.
Melanie Clark, the wife of a Hanover Fire-EMS lieutenant spoke Monday at a news conference in Richmond. Her husband, Lt. Brad Clark, died after being hit on the side of Interstate 295 in October. She said workers are still in “extremely vulnerable” positions.
“How many lives, how many families, will needlessly suffer the loss of a family member before stiffer penalties and fines are imposed to violators of this law,” she said.
Transportation crews told 10 News Monday that they want everyone to know how important the law is to them, and that decisions people make can lead to life and death situations for them.
Kevin Turner, a safety service operator with the Virginia Department of Transportation, is one of the workers who may show up if someone is stuck on the side of the road, to make sure they’re safe and to help them get back on the road. He also protects crash scenes.
“People just need to learn to give us a break. The faster we can do our job, the safer we can do our job, the faster they can get on with life,” Turner said.
He said he's had many close calls.
“Getting buzzed by trucks. People intentionally coming over on the rumble strip just to scare you,” he said.
VDOT workers want to get the word out that the law applies to all official vehicles -- police, emergency crews, tow trucks, and their crews.
“The move over law also includes amber lights, not just the red and blue. All are important,” VDOT Safety Service Patrol manager Mike King said.
The bill hasn’t made it to a chamber floor. There are four more weeks remaining on the schedule for the legislative session in Richmond.