The Times West Virginian

June 22, 2014

‘Move over’ and protect lives when officers are working alongside highways

Times West Virginian

— It’s a matter of common sense.

And it’s the law.

Law-enforcement officers are at risk when they step out of their vehicles during their around-the-clock duties, and it’s not only from the people they’re pursuing or needing to question.

More than 150 U.S. officers have been killed since 1999 after being struck by vehicles along America’s highways, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

In response, a new coalition of traffic safety and law-enforcement groups has launched a nationwide public awareness campaign to protect emergency personnel along roadsides.

“Move Over, America” is a partnership originally founded in 2007 by the National Safety Commission, the National Sheriffs’ Association and the National Association of Police Organizations. The partnership has also received the full support of the American Association of State Troopers.

The month of June, in fact, is being promoted as National Move Over Awareness Month.

The campaign, according to its website, “is the first nationally coordinated effort to educate Americans about ‘Move Over’ laws and how they help protect the law-enforcement officers who risk their lives protecting the public.”

West Virginia is among 43 states that have passed such laws, which require motorists to move over and change lanes to give safe clearance to law-enforcement officers on roadsides. A motorist can face up to 60 days in jail or a $500 fine for violating this law in West Virginia.

The importance of following the law and avoiding even a momentary lack of concentration when behind the wheel was illustrated early Thursday morning in the southern part of West Virginia, when a vehicle struck a West Virginia State Police trooper along Interstate 77 in Mercer County and then fled the scene of the crash.

As the Bluefield Daily Telegraph reported, Trooper First Class D.R. White of the West Virginia State Police Parkways Authority (Turnpike) parked his cruiser on the shoulder of the roadway on I-77 north at the 15.5 mile marker near Athens to remove debris near the middle of the roadway.

Lt. Michael Baylous, a public information officer for the West Virginia State Police, said White’s cruiser bar light, complete with directional blue and red lighting to alert motorists to move left, was activated. On his way back to the cruiser, White was struck by a vehicle. Baylous said it is believed that White was struck by the passenger-side mirror of the vehicle.

Baylous said White received injuries which forced him to crawl off the roadway, back to his cruiser. He issued a radio call for medical assistance. Baylous said White was treated and released Thursday morning from an area hospital and is experiencing considerable overall pain.

Hit-and-run, obviously, adds to the already serious nature of this incident. Even a momentary lack of attention to officers or other first-responders along the road can lead to a tragic accident.

“If you see emergency vehicles stopped on the side of the roadway, you have a responsibility to at least slow down, and if possible to move into the lane farther away from those vehicles,” Baylous said. “But at a minimum people should be slowing down. And if that lane is available, you are expected to get over.”

That’s just common sense — and the law.