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We could see a major speed limit change in MI’s Move Over Law

September 26, 2017 by Steven M. Gursten

Under Sen. Miller (R-Sherman Twp.)’s Move Over Law plan, drivers not only must shift one lane over — they also would have to drive half the posted speed limit

Move Over Law

What happens when drivers don’t follow Michigan’s Move Over Law?

Emergency personnel are injured or killed. They are put in harm’s way — often with cars traveling at speeds of 70 mph or higher.

What is Michigan’s Move Over Law?

Under Michigan’s current Move Over Law, if an emergency vehicle is on the side of the road with its lights on, drivers who are going in the same direction are required to move over one lane, allowing a buffer zone for firemen, police officers, EMTs and tow truck operators.

Yet, as an auto accident attorney, I’ve seen far too often that drivers aren’t doing what they are supposed to do, and this is resulting in emergency responders being injured or killed in completely tragic and completely preventable crashes.

I’ve had too many of my own cases involving police, fire, and EMS personnel clients, who were seriously injured when a car or truck didn’t move over. What happens instead is that the driver isn’t paying attention and he or she plows right into the back of a stationary emergency responder vehicle or police car.

But a new Michigan Senate bill has been introduced to modify the state’s Move Over Law — and save many lives in the process. This new bill promises to improve the safety of our emergency personnel and significantly reduce the numbers of automobile accidents that cause so many to be needlessly injured or killed in the line of duty.

Adjustment to Michigan Move Over Law could prevent, reduce ‘bullet vehicle’ crashes

When a car or truck rams into emergency vehicles, it causes what’s coined a “bullet vehicle” crash, as the physics of the crash leave emergency responders helpless.

An example is a July 2016 truck accident in which a trucker who violated MI’s move over law nearly killed an MSP trooper when he slammed into the patrol vehicle on the side of Interstate 696 in Southfield.

As the news reported at the time:

“‘The force of the crash sent the trooper’s SUV spinning along the freeway and through the nearby overpass, where it ended up on the other side, sitting on the left hand shoulder.’”

It’s a wonder the trooper suffered only minor personal injuries.

Move Over Law violations are an ‘epidemic’

Yet, drivers are still going about their travels with little to no regard for parked emergency responders, staying in their lanes and driving too fast to react. It’s come to the point where the Michigan State Police is labeling this rash of Move Over Law violations an “epidemic”:

“Near misses are an everyday occurrence. We routinely have to replace vehicles that are struck and destroyed. Worst of all, we have all lost people who were simply doing their job. It must stop now.” (MSP press release, “Michigan Motorists Reminded to Move Over for Police, Fire and Tow Vehicles,” July 18, 2016)

I couldn’t agree more.

New bill would offer clearer direction for Move Over Law on slowing down

Proposed legislation introduced Sept. 13, 2017, by Sen. Aaron Miller (R-Sherman Twp.) calls for drivers to go half the posted speed limit on roads (or 45 mph when on limited access freeways) when an emergency vehicle is parked on the shoulder and has its lights on.

The specifics of Senate Bill 4944 say that if a driver approaches and passes a “stationary authorized emergency vehicle,” he or she must “proceed with due care and caution” and “reduce his or her speed to 1/2 of the posted speed limit,” in addition to moving over at least one lane or at least two vehicle widths.

If a driver can’t move over due to weather, road conditions or thick traffic that won’t allow an opening to merge, that driver must still go at least half the posted speed limit.

This is a much clearer and more understandable than the current Move Over Law, which says drivers are only required to “reduce” speed if they are unable to move over.

Considering that a similar bill — SB 477, which called for a 10 mph speed reduction — didn’t make it past the last legislative term, I’m heartened that SB 4944 was among the bills introduced once the 2017-18 term kicked off.

SB 4944 is a much-needed measure for the safety of our emergency personnel, and I encourage lawmakers in the Senate and House to move on it and get it passed as swiftly as possible.

What is the current Emergency Vehicle Caution Law in Michigan?

Under Michigan’s Move Over Law, which is actually called the “Emergency Vehicle Caution Law,” a driver is required to do the following when he or she approaches and passes a police, fire or other “emergency response” vehicle that’s stopped with its lights “flashing, rotating or oscillating”:

  • “[E]xhibit due care and caution.”
  • “[P]roceed with caution and yield the right-of-way by moving into a lane at least 1 moving lane or 2 vehicle widths apart from the stationary authorized emergency vehicle …”
  • If moving away from the stationary emergency vehicle is not possible (due to a lack of lanes, weather, road conditions or traffic), then the driver “shall reduce and maintain a safe speed for weather, road conditions, and vehicular or pedestrian traffic and proceed with due care and caution …” (MCL 257.653a(1))

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