Published on Tuesday, March 14, 2006
in the Lakeland Ledger
Between 1996 and 2000, motorists in Florida crashed into law-enforcement and rescue vehicles that were stopped beside the roadways -- with their warning lights flashing -1,793 times.
Those crashes resulted in five deaths and 419 injuries.
Those statistics prompted the Legislature to pass the Move Over Act in 2002. It has two basic provisions:
On highways with two or more lanes traveling in the same direction, when a law-enforcement or emergency vehicle is stopped by the roadside with emergency lights on, motorists are required to move out of the lane closest to the stopped vehicle as soon as it is safe to do so unless otherwise directed by an officer.
On a two-lane road, when police cars, ambulances, wreckers and other vehicles are stopped by the road with lights flashing, drivers must slow to a speed 20 mph less than the speed limit. If the speed limit is 20 mph or less, motorists must slow to 5 mph.
Many motorists still haven't gotten the message, although there have been some educational campaigns. A spokesman for the Miramar Police Department told the South Florida Sun Sentinel last week that about 90 percent of the drivers don't know about the law.
The Miramar department, he added, had begun a monthlong awareness campaign, starting w ith a weeklong education program. In three hours, the department stopped 150 vehicles during a mock roadside emergency. The drivers were given informational fliers instead of tickets -- and warned that the enforcement would be coming this month.
The Miramar Police Department, along with the Florida Highway Patrol and other law-enforcement agencies, evidently has decided that word-of-mouth among drivers will raise awareness: Crackdowns on motorists who don't slow down the required 20 mph on two-lane roads, or don't move over on roads with four or more lanes are beginning statewide.
Violators will be fined and three points assessed against their driving record.
Needless tragedies abound. Last month, Broward County Sheriff's Deputy Ryan Seguin, 23, was killed when he was struck by a passing vehicle while conducting a traffic stop on Interstate 595.
The day after Seguin was killed, FHP Trooper Adam M. Heinlein was in his cruiser, parked along U.S. 27, south of Polk County, when a tractor-trailer sideswiped it. He was uninjured, but the violator the trooper had stopped was sprayed with shattered glass and had to be taken to a hospital.
In January, Trooper Darryl Hayood Jr. was hit while writing a ticket just south of Hollywood on the Florida Turnpike. A pickup truck veered into the rear of Haywood's cruiser, pinning him in the car for a half hour. He is recovering from serious head injuries.
A week ago Sunday, Donald Bradshaw, 66, who helped stranded motorists as part of the Florida Department of Transportation's Road Rangers program, was killed when he was placing cones to close a lane blocked by a wrecked car on Interstate 275 near downtown Tampa. A car driven by Benjamin J. Green, 31, drove through the lane closure and hit him.
Officially known as the Service Patrol Highway Assistance Program, Road Rangers assist stranded motorists along designated Florida highways. The program began in October 1995 in Broward and Collier counties, where FHP troopers reported that waiting with stranded motorists was taking up more than half their duty time. "The Road Rangers," said an FHP spokesman, "have returned our troopers to the highways where they belong."
Two Range Riders patrol Polk County's 29.5-mile section of Interstate 4 -- 24 hours a day, seven days a week -- from Memorial Boulevard in Lakeland to the Osceola County line. The uniformed rangers assist motorists with minor mechanical repairs, help with changing flats and provide gas for those who run out. George Williams of Davenport, a retired police captain, supervises about two dozen Road Rangers in Polk County, says to a DOT news release.
The Polk County service is contracted through Naples-based Coastland Auto Center. The company was the first to contract with the Road Rangers when the program began in 1995, and also provides services along Alligator Alley in South Florida and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, south of St. Petersburg.
An FHP spokesman told the Sun-Sentinel that the Move Over Act is basically a matter of "paying attention. If there is a lane open, move over or slow down. You can see the lights from far away, so start preparing and start looking to see if a lane is available."
Law-enforcement officers and emergency workers have a difficult and dangerous job. Motorists can make it a little safer by moving over on multiple-lane roads or slowing down on two-lane roads.