Published on Sunday, March 12, 2006
in the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel
Police, firefighters need protection
On Alert, an occasional Sunday series, highlights public safety issues or features a recent incident.
Many drivers aren't aware of a law designed to protect emergency workers stopped alongside the state's roadways almost four years after it was approved by the state Legislature.
Recent incidents, including the death of Broward Sheriff's Deputy Ryan Seguin, who was struck by a car as he made a routine traffic stop along Interstate 595 last month, resulted in the latest public awareness campaign.
"It's an effort to get the word out to the public," said Officer Bill Robertson, a spokesman for the Miramar Police Department, which launched a monthlong project to educate drivers. "The educational portion will continue for the next week and then comes the enforcement."
The Florida Highway Patrol and the Sheriff's Office have conducted similar campaigns.
The law requires drivers to either move over one lane or slow down to 20 miles per hour below the posted speed limit when an emergency vehicle with flashing lights is stopped on the side of a highway or street. Emergency vehicles include police cars, ambulances, fire trucks, road maintenance vehicles, tow trucks, road ranger trucks and wreckers with rotating or flashing amber lights.
Violators can be fined with a moving violation and get three points on their license and potentially hurt people stopped on the roadside.
Along Miramar Parkway, officers recently watched to see whether drivers complied with the law when a patrol car was stopped on the side of the road during a staged traffic stop.
In three hours, they stopped 150 vehicles, including two Miramar city vehicles and a marked fire inspector vehicle from another agency. Drivers were informed of the law and given an informational flier rather than a ticket.
About 90 percent of the drivers did not know about the law, Robertson said.
Miramar resident Flor Cabutto thought she was being pulled over for speeding or a checkpoint.
"This is the first time I'm hearing about it," said Cabutto, who was visibly happy she was not being cited. "It makes sense; I am going to tell my husband."
Some drivers told officers that they thought the law was only for major highways. Others said they thought that they had pulled over enough or that they didn't have an opportunity to move over.
The excuses will get them nowhere once Miramar starts issuing tickets the week of March 20.
There have been no injuries or deaths to officers making stops or directing traffic in Miramar, but there have been some near misses. Robertson hopes the campaign will raise awareness among drivers.
"This is helping to protect officers not just for our department but other state and other local officials," he said.
There have been a number of recent incidents in addition to the death of Deputy Seguin.
Last month, Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Adam M. Heinlein was sitting in his cruiser on U.S. 27 when aemitrailer truck ideswiped it, and Sunrise Fire Capt. Steve Grimstead was hit by a passing car at a roadside emergency scene.
In January, Trooper Darryl Haywood Jr. was struck while writing a citation on Florida's Turnpike just south of the Hollywood Boulevard exit.
And most recently, on March 5, a road ranger was killed while closing a lane near an abandoned vehicle on Interstate 275 in Tampa.
Since 1995, 147 law enforcement officers in the United States have been struck or killed by vehicles during traffic stops or while directing traffic, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund Organization.
Between July 2002 and December 2005, 13,950 citations were issued to drivers for not abiding by the Move Over law, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
Officials warn drivers to be cautious when changing lanes or decreasing speed.
"It basically comes down to paying attention, if there is a lane open, move over or slow down," Florida Highway Patrol Sgt. Mark Wysocky said. "You can see the lights from far away, so start preparing and start looking to see if a lane is available."
For more information, call Miramar police at 954-602-4400 or Florida Highway Patrol at 850-410-0999 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.