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FAQs on Michigan law for driving near first responders

What to do to ensure the safety of tow truck drivers, police, fire and emergency personnel clearing automobile accidents on the road

Last week, I wrote about the importance of keeping tow truck drivers safe while they’re on the side of the road clearing car and truck accidents. The same dangers exist for all first responders – be they police, firefighters or ambulance technicians.

Michigan has a “move over” law that requires drivers to merge away from a vehicle working on the side of the highway and to provide an empty travel lane for safety. This helps to avoid cars whizzing by tow truck drivers and first responders, putting their lives in jeopardy while they’re doing their jobs, often courageously and with little thanks. The Michigan traffic law that protects first responders is called the “Vehicle Caution Law.”

Today I want to continue this important topic of how we can do a better job of protecting tow truck drivers and first responders with some frequently asked questions about what you should do in specific traffic situations, with thanks to the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Q: If I’m on a two-lane road and see a police car on the shoulder and a car traveling in the opposite direction, what am I supposed to do?
A: When only one lane is available for travel in each direction, you must slow down and pass with caution, giving the emergency vehicle as much room as possible.

Q: Do I have to move over for a wrecker (tow truck)?
A: Yes. Under a change effective June 2, 2004, road service vehicles, including wreckers, are considered to be emergency vehicles for the purpose of this law only.

Q: What vehicles are considered to be emergency vehicles under this law?
A: Police, fire, rescue, ambulance, and road service vehicles. Road service vehicles include wreckers (tow trucks) and courtesy vehicles operated by the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Q: If I see an emergency vehicle on the side of the road with its emergency lights off, do I have to move over?
A: No. You do not have to move over if the emergency vehicle does not have its emergency lights activated. However, you should always pass with caution, giving the emergency vehicle as much room as possible.

Q. How do I proceed on when approaching an emergency vehicle on roads  with  two or more lanes of travel in the same direction?
A. In Michigan, the operator of a vehicle traveling on a highway designed with two or more lanes of travel in the same direction shall, upon approaching a stationary emergency vehicle with its emergency lights activated, carefully move into an open lane at least one lane away from the emergency vehicle. If this is not possible due to traffic, weather, or road conditions, the operator shall slow down and pass with caution, allowing the emergency vehicle as much space as possible (MCL 257.653a).

Q. How do I proceed when approaching an emergency vehicle on a roadway which only has one lane of travel for each direction?
A. When approaching a stationary emergency vehicle with its emergency lights activated, slow down and pass with caution, allowing the emergency vehicle as much space as possible (MCL 257.653a).

Q. What happens if I violate this law?
A. A person found responsible for violating this law is guilty of a misdemeanor and is subject to enhanced penalties of up to 15 years in prison and/or a $7,500 fine if the violation causes injury or death to a police officer, firefighter, or other emergency response personnel (MCL 257.653a).

Remember, all first responders – tow truck drivers, police, ambulance drivers and EMT crews – must be protected. It’s your job as drivers to be cognizant of their jobs and their safety.

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Blog Author Steven M. Gursten
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