Bryan Walker has had his share of close calls.
As a Senior Emergency Response Technician for the Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration (MDOT SHA), Walker spends his days helping motorists on the side of the road – traffic often whizzing by just a few feet away.
One day a couple years ago, Walker was assisting Maryland State Police at a crash scene on Interstate 70 when another crash occurred between two vehicles in the eastbound lanes. One of those vehicles careened into Walker’s Coordinated Highway Action Response Team (CHART) truck and a police vehicle parked on the side of the road. Walker and the state trooper rushed up the nearby embankment, narrowly avoiding the crashing vehicles.
Nobody was hurt in the incident, but the experience was still fresh in Walker’s mind as he joined transportation leaders and law enforcement officials Thursday morning to encourage drivers to move over or slow down for emergency responders and roadside workers. Maryland law requires it.
“Moving over and slowing down is a motorist’s responsibility,” said MDOT Secretary Greg Slater. “It’s our responsibility to keep everyone safe.”
MDOT agencies including SHA, the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) and Maryland Transportation Authority Police joined AAA Mid-Atlantic and Maryland State Police for the event near I-95 in Laurel.
“The ultimate goal is not only to make motorists aware of the laws; the goal is to change behavior, save lives on our roadways and put an end to these senseless tragedies,” said Ragina Ali, manager of Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic.
Maryland’s Move Over law requires drivers approaching from the rear of an authorized vehicle stopped on a highway with lights flashing to, if possible, make a lane change into an available lane not immediately adjacent to the vehicle. This should only be done if another lane in the same direction is available and the move can be made safely and without impeding other traffic. If safely moving to another lane is not possible, the law requires drivers to slow down to a reasonable speed safe for existing weather, road and vehicular or pedestrian traffic conditions.
The Maryland law, first enacted in 2010, initially provided protection for emergency responders, law enforcement personnel and CHART vehicle operators providing roadside assistance. In 2014, the law was extended to include tow trucks, and in 2018 it was expanded again to include transportation, service and utility vehicles, and waste and recycling trucks.
Since 2016, there have been 68 crashes involving SHA CHART operators as they assisted motorists, including five crashes this year alone, said SHA Administrator Tim Smith.
“Not moving over and slowing down is not only dangerous, it’s against the law,” Smith said.
The statewide education effort came ahead of National Move Over Day on October 16 to raise awareness of the Move Over law and help eliminate preventable roadside injuries and fatalities.
“The importance of the ‘Move Over’ law is simple,” said Col. Kevin Anderson, chief of Maryland Transportation Authority Police. “Any time that you approach a stopped emergency vehicle, whether it’s police, fire, EMS, or our highway courtesy patrols or tow operators, we need you to slow down and move over. Why? As these men and women are out doing their job every day, we can more efficiently and effectively clear that roadway hazard and they can go home safe at the end of their shift.”
Walker, the CHART driver, admitted it can be nerve-racking working on the side of Maryland’s highways.
“It can be very scary,” Walker said. “Nobody seems to slow down. Obviously, the Move Over law does help because some people do actually move, but we have some people that don’t, and they just stay in that one lane and they’re going full speed and they act like we’re not even there. So, we have to be very careful about what we do and make sure we set up the appropriate equipment to make sure people can see us from a far distance.”
Secretary Slater said he is personally affected by each crash involving emergency responders or roadside workers.
“We all know the risks that we take when we come into this business, but they deserve a safe work place,” he said.
Violating the law is a misdemeanor carrying a $110 fine and one point on on the violator’s driving license. If the violation causes a crash, the fine is $150 and three points. If there is a death or serious injury, the fine is $750 and three points. Since 2015, law enforcement in Maryland have written more than 25,000 citations under the law.
“It might just seem like another law to you, but it’s what keeps our families safe,” Secretary Slater said. “The lives of our family, my family, and many others are dependent on you doing the responsible thing. We all just have to do our part.”
MVA Administrator Chrissy Nizer used the event to announce a new MVA Highway Safety Office campaign to educate Marylanders on the Move Over law. The campaign includes billboards in key locations and posts on social media.
“Our first responders, our tow truck operators, our CHART workers, our law enforcement – they’re there for us when we need them, it’s now up to us to be the example,” Nizer said. “Please move over. Let’s all get home safely.”
For more on Thursday’s Move Over event, follow MDOT on Twitter and Facebook. Learn more about the MDOT’s commitment to zero deaths on Maryland roadways at ZeroDeathsMD.gov and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.