Home Local News NCDOT: Ignoring Move Over Law poses serious traffic safety risks

NCDOT: Ignoring Move Over Law poses serious traffic safety risks

Photo by NCDOT

ASHEVILLE – An NCDOT employee had keys swiped off his hip from a passing motorist while conducting a safety patrol on Interstate 40.

The driver failed to slow his pickup and move over one lane, as state law requires, and the utility trailer he towed came within a few inches of striking – and possibly killing the safety patrol responder.

The incident was one of more than two dozen like it across the state over the past two years, underscoring the risks posed to N.C. Department of Transportation employees and the traveling public alike, if the state’s Move Over Law is not heeded.

“Our safety-patrol drivers, when they stop to assist motorists, are often within mere inches of traffic every day on our interstates,” said Chad Franklin, the regional intelligent transportation system engineer in Asheville. “That’s basically a loaded missile coming right at them.”

Franklin oversees a group of 15 responders for Incident Management Assistant Program, known as IMAP. They provide a wide variety of services to assist drivers, aid in temporary traffic control and help keep traffic flowing. With nearly 100 specialty trucks across the state, NCDOT provides this service in every metropolitan area in North Carolina. Tens of thousands of motorists are assisted every year.

Despite the Move Over Law and the precautions taken by NCDOT’s safety patrol drivers, their vehicles have been struck 26 times across the state since Jan. 1, 2022 – an average of once a month during that period through this past February.

“That is far too many,” Franklin said. “We have been lucky out here when it comes to injuries. But it shouldn’t take somebody getting seriously injured or killed for drivers to realize the seriousness of the Move Over Law.”

The law requires motorists to move over a lane or slow down considerably when approaching emergency vehicles stopped on the side of the road with lights flashing. Failure to do so could result in a $250 fine, and violators could also face misdemeanor or felony charges, if someone is injured or property is damaged.

A Closer Look at the Data

In all but three of those incidents, the NCDOT drivers were not injured, but their vehicles sustained some kind of damage. In almost every instance, the motorist failed to pay attention or reduce speed when the collision with a safety patrol truck occurred. About a half-dozen of the crashes appeared to have involved violations of the Move Over Law, based on a crash review by NCDOT.

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Almost a dozen of those 26 incidents happened in these three western North Carolina counties: Buncombe, Haywood and Henderson. Mecklenburg County accounted for six of those crashes; followed by two incidents in Forsyth County; and one each in Brunswick, Gaston, Guilford, Johnston, Orange, Pender and Wake counties.

In January, the NCDOT established a Post Incident Review Board to review and evaluate all incidents, such as crashes, involving its safety patrol drivers. The purpose of the board is to identify and recommend potential safety and training improvements for its Incident Management Assistance Program and patrol drivers.

The dangers of drivers not heeding the Move Over Law are not limited to NCDOT. Vehicles for first-responders, including police, fire and paramedics, are also being struck. According to an analysis by NCDOT’s Traffic Safety Unit, such first-responders have been struck on average 28 times annually since 2020. The law applies statewide to first-responders stopped on the shoulder or in a lane on an interstate, or other fully access-controlled highway, with their emergency lights activated.

“It’s vitally important for drivers to slow down and change lanes,” said Colonel Freddy Johnson Jr., commander of the North Carolina State Highway Patrol. “Somebody’s life could depend on it. At the end of the day, we want everyone, including our responders, to be safe out on the highways.”

It Hits Close to Home

The crashes into IMAP trucks and numerous near misses are a solemn reminder to safety patrol drivers such as Bill Chandler, a 20-year veteran in western North Carolina. Drivers have hit his truck six times, including twice in the last two years, while he’s been assisting somebody pulled over on the shoulder.

“My safety message to drivers is that if you see lights, slow down and move over,” Chandler said. “The lights mean somebody there is working. They have families they need to go home to at night. Their lives matter, too.”