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Move Over law now stricter, but penalties are weaker

December 17, 2018 by Steven M. Gursten

Move Over law requires drivers to slow down when passing police, fire, utility vehicles, but the penalties are weakened for drivers who ignore law 

Move Over Law - Stricter but weaker penalties

Michigan’s new Move Over Law deserves an unenthusiastic one-handed clap.

The Legislature and the Governor have strengthened the Move Over law by passing Senate Bill 477 (now Public Act 349 of 2018), which extends the Move Over law to more vehicles (solid waste collection workers, utility workers, road maintenance workers) and requires drivers to reduce their speed before moving over.  This is to be applauded.  These are measures that I’ve been calling for literally for years on this auto lawyer blog as an attorney who has helped far too many first-responders and police officers who have been struck by reckless passing motorists.

But I’m baffled at why – at the very same time the new Move Over law is doing more to protect the people who risk their lives to help the public – they would also choose to so drastically reduce the penalties for drivers who violate the Move Over law and put these first-responders in danger.

The new version of Michigan’s Move Over law, which was signed into law by Governor Snyder on November 15, 2018, extends the “move over” protections beyond police, fire and emergency vehicles (to whom it has applied since the Move Over law was enacted in 2000) to solid waste collection, utility service and road maintenance vehicles as well.

Importantly, the revamped law, which will take effect in February 2019, also requires drivers to reduce their speed to 10 mph below the posted speed limit before moving over for any of the above stationary vehicles.

Michigan’s Move Over Law Also Weakens Penalties

Here’s the part that’s hard to explain. The new Move Over law also reduces penalties for drivers who violate the Move Over law.

Although penalties for violations involving injury or death are unchanged, penalties for other violations have been reduced as follows:

  • Jail time is no longer an option;
  • Fines are reduced from $500 to $400;
  • Points on the driver’s license are reduced from 4 to 2.

Even though the new law extends the Move Over law to solid waste collection, utility service and road maintenance vehicles, it provides NO PENALTIES for violations involving these vehicles – even if injury or death occurs.

New Move Over law reduces public deterrent and sends wrong message

As a consumer protection and personal injury attorney, I’m certainly in favor of making Michigan’s Move Over law more effective at protecting the lives of police officers, firefighters, emergency personnel and others who risk their lives by stopping on highways and freeways to help the public.

That’s why, after it was introduced in June 2017, I wholeheartedly supported Senate Bill 477, which, initially, only proposed the reduction in speed and the extension of the Move Over law to other vehicles.

I believed then and I continue to believe now that these were excellent ideas, as I explained in my July 2017 auto lawyer blog post:

“I am too familiar with the consequences to emergency responders under the state of our current Move Over Law.  As auto accident attorney, I have represented too many police, fire, and EMS personnel who have been seriously injured when a motor vehicle traveling too fast slams into a stationary emergency responder vehicle. The severity of the crash is worse — and the personal injuries that result are worse – when a “bullet vehicle” slams into a stationary vehicle. The physics of the crash leaves these emergency responders helpless.”

However, I believe that lawmakers’ and the governor’s decision to gut the penalties for Move Over violations was an enormous mistake.

It removes an important deterrent for those who aren’t adequately deterred by the prospect of injury or killing a police officer or firefighter who was trying to help someone in need.

But, even more importantly, it sends the dangerous and unacceptable message that we, as Michiganders, do not value and appreciate the risk and sacrifice that police, fire and emergency personnel make in protecting us.

And the new law seems to suggest we place no value as a society on the lives of  waste collection, utility workers and road constructions workers by specifically removing violations when these workers are injured or killed by motorists.

Existing Move Over law and penalties

When drivers are approaching and passing a “stationary authorized emergency vehicle” with its lights flashing – including but not limited to police and fire – they must “proceed 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,” when possible. (MCL 257.653a(1)(a))

Violators of the Move Over law’s mandate face who do not cause injury or death to a police officer, firefighter or emergency response personnel in the area of the stationary emergency vehicle face the following penalties:

  • Fine up to $500; and/or
  • 90 days in jail;
  • 4 points on their driving record. (MCL 257.653a(2); 257.320a(1)(k))

The new Move Over law and its weaker penalties

Under the new Move Over law – pursuant to the changes from SB 477, which has become Public Act 349 of 2018 – drivers must still move over for stationary police, fire and emergency vehicles. (MCL 257.653a)

But now drivers must also move over when they approach and pass a “stationary solid waste collection vehicle, utility service vehicle, or road maintenance vehicle.” (Amendment to MCL 257.653b)

Additionally, when a driver is approaching and passing any of the above stationary vehicles, he or she must “reduce his or her speed by at least 10 miles per hour below the posted speed limit” before moving over. (Amendments to both MCL 257.653a and 653b)

However, despite the increased safety measures required of drivers, the change in the law has given drivers considerably less incentive to put them into action.

Drivers who refuse to move over for police, fire and emergency vehicles now face the following reduced penalties:

  • No more possibility of jail time;
  • A $400 fine instead of the $500 fine that’s been on the books since the Move Over was enacted in 2000;
  • Two points on their driving record as opposed to 4 points. (Amendments to 257.653a(2) and 257.320a(k)(which is deleted and (o) is added))

The new Move Over law provides no penalties for refusing to move over stationary solid waste collection, utility service and road maintenance vehicles – even if the violation of the law results in injury or death to a worker in the immediate area of the vehicle.

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