‘Move Over Awareness’ Campaigns: Cops Still Getting Hit on Roadways

‘Move Over Awareness’ Campaigns: Cops Still Getting Hit on Roadways

By Stephen Owsinski

In the first few days of January 2023, the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) posted a “Move Over Awareness Month” bulletin as a reminder, unsurprisingly coinciding with several more avoidable instances of fully marked police cruisers getting crinkled like accordions.

Move Over Awareness campaigns are declared by different state governments in different months throughout the year. I see this calendar-event variation as a good thing—each state launching a respective Move Over reminder makes the news and circulates for everyone throughout the country to be reminded on more than one highlighted occasion.

Despite the repetition, though, drivers are still not heeding this statute’s purpose: Preserve police and other lives by respecting space to implement public safety feats.

Published by FHP in October 2022, the Move Over Law generally requires motorists to “move over for vehicles displaying warning lights. This includes law enforcement, emergency, tow trucks, construction, sanitation, utility, and maintenance vehicles. If you are unable to change lanes, you should slow to 20 mph under the posted speed limit. If the speed limit is 20 mph or less and you are traveling on a two-lane road, slow to 5 mph.”

Reasonable and doable…but not everyone is on the same page when it comes to driving safely—some operators take driving a motor vehicle for granted. Cops know this quite well, especially traffic enforcement units specifically relegated to working on our streets and expressways, keen on catching speeders and those violating a bevy of motor vehicle statutes in the books, placing LEOs in the path of harm’s way by virtue of duties.

(Photo courtesy of Florida Highway Patrol.)

During the traffic enforcement training modules while at the police academy, I recall a moment when one of the instructors —a motor officer with a county law enforcement agency— rolled his eyes and sighed when it came to the topic of the some among the motoring public paying attention to what is going on in front/around them.

Recruits chuckled. The rather salty persona of this traffic safety instructor didn’t. He began to explain how he attended too many police funerals of on-duty LEOs killed in otherwise avoidable circumstances, namely traffic-related instances. (The Officer Down Memorial Page bears this out year after year.)

Our class of 32 police recruits fell silent, conceiving the stark litany of perils cops confront, likely feeling insensitive for initially chuckling before context was furnished. Hard lessons. Something rookies learn sooner than later.

The instructor, with what may be coined as dry comedic follow-through, then hypothesized, “If only cops could grow wings and fly.” It was the example of grit harbored by seasoned cops who had ample reason to view some members of society as capable of catastrophe, not necessarily by intent (although we all know how grotesque that has been lately) but by absentmindedness. Pure human error.

Once I hit the street beat, that instructor’s words and bitter-sounding delivery surfaced in my brain often. A good thing, echoing mindfulness of bad possibilities. Didn’t quite have the incredible ability of an owl, rotating my head in a 360° span, but I did test craning/straining my neck to maximally consider danger zones.  

Law enforcement academies can train cops about all aspects of traffic safety until they are blue in the face. Ultimately, though, there is only so much police officials working America’s highways and byways can control. The motoring public must take their fair share of responsibility by heeding flashing emergency lights, whether they be blue, red, or amber.

While we are once again flagging the importance of the Move Over Law, a correlate is the driver who blows past stopped school buses in our communities, endangering children trying to get to/from campus for educational gains and peer socialization.

Although the statutory ingredients for what motorists must do when a bright yellow, clearly marked school bus with red flashing lights and Stop signs is rather universal (though the fines may vary geographically), the Marion County, Florida, sheriff’s office recently posted a brief video along with bullet points to be mindful of:

“Many of you listened, but some did not. The ones that didn’t were issued a $371 ticket after they failed to stop for a stopped school bus. Familiarize yourself with when you have to stop for a school bus.

  • If you are on a two-lane road, you MUST STOP!
  • If you are on a multi-lane road, you MUST STOP!
  • If you are on a multi-lane road with a left-turning lane, you MUST STOP!
  • If you are on a divided highway (with a raised median or physical barrier), the vehicles traveling in the same direction as the bus MUST STOP. Still, vehicles traveling in the opposite direction must proceed cautiously.

The Marion County Sheriff’s Office concluded the point (reminder) with an imperative caveat (italicized), one which also applies to all states’ Move Over laws written to preserve public safety officials needing cooperation from the motoring public:

“Please share this to help keep our kids safe! Remember to watch for school buses; our future is riding on them!”

(Photo courtesy of the Rhode Island Troopers Association.)

The future of cops, and their respective loved ones, rely on attentive drivers not bowling over cops lie strikes and spares. Careening into roadside assistance efforts carried out by cops is entirely avoidable. Our future is riding on cops and cops’ futures are riding on responsible drivers. It simply takes observation of and attention to motor vehicle operation, mindfully heeding emergency lights up ahead, while also keeping our head in the mix of vehicles and signage, not devices that distract from safe maneuvering.

Anecdotally, I am seeing some auto operators who heed traffic safety and others who seem to be driving while their head is elsewhere. Days ago, my daughter and I observed one driver (mobile) who had zero hands on the wheel and the visor down, essentially blocking her view of the road. Sounds like a caricature, huh?

Since I was driving, my daughter scrutinized more details: the young lady driving had the lower curve of the steering wheel (ahem) stabilized by both her kneecaps doing the driving, while carelessly pushing the pedals (I guess). It was an older model vehicle (not a self-driving one). You likely have guesses as to what she was doing. Applying makeup is the culprit. This was on a wide expanse of well-traversed highway through a heavily populated area during the recent holidays. Although that means school buses were not out and about, kiddos were. So were cops, as always.

Many of the Move Over Law violations resulting in wrecks of police cruisers and maimed or killed cops are the result of intoxicated drivers. Others are just…inexplicable.

One of the latest impacts occurred on December 19, 2022, when a motorist failed to move over despite the brilliance of blue emergency lights activated on a Massachusetts State Police cruiser occupied by a state trooper and a police K9.

MSP Trooper Kenneth Hanchett and his canine partner “Orry” were within the police cruiser, working a fixed post—a Route 495 construction zone. The taxpayer-afforded police cruiser was crunched. The trooper was rushed to an ER. The police dog was rushed to a veterinary hospital.

(Photo courtesy of the State Police Association of Massachusetts.)

Law enforcement officers around the nation sign up to earn extra compensation by serving as stationary markers, with emergency lighting fully activated on just about all four sides, to warn oncoming motorists to exercise caution. Trooper Hatchett was doing exactly that, particularly safeguarding a full crew of construction workers (pedestrians) repairing the pavement…so it could have been far worse.  

This factor considers how drivers are notoriously rocketing through interstate or highway construction zones despite illuminated police cruisers and warning signage and LED-lit “Slow Down” boards and long strings of neon-orange Bob’s Barricades, the ones also marked with reflective bands for nighttime driver headlights to serve as cautionary cues.

Moreover, neon-colored traffic safety vests and yellow hardhats worn by roadworkers are among the mix of beacon-like implementations used to magnetize the minds of motorists, nevertheless resulting in casualties caused by careless drivers.

So, what to do about Move Over laws being far more than just a suggestion…

We close with an understandably brusque statement made by the president of the State Police Association of Massachusetts, Patrick McNamara:

“…it is unbelievable and frankly unacceptable the number of avoidable cruiser strikes our [troopers] endure every year. We continue to call on the public to slow down and move over and we look to the legislature to improve the current move-over laws to hold drivers accountable when they injure our members. The message today is simple: SLOW DOWN and MOVE OVER…enough is enough”