YORK, Maine — Maine State Police plan to increase enforcement of Maine’s “move over” law starting today on the Maine Turnpike to give emergency and construction vehicles in the breakdown lane more room from passing motorists.
The move over law was passed in 2001 and requires motorists to enter the passing lane when going by a stopped emergency vehicle with its lights on or to slow down if the passing lane is occupied by traffic. The Legislature updated the law in 2007 to include wreckers. Motorists who fail to observe the law can be fined at least $311 for the violation.
“We’ve had several officers hurt seriously in crashes where people have hit them out on the highway,” said Col. Patrick Fleming of the state police.
The enforcement beginning today is an experiment to see how well the increase works to protect emergency personnel. It will be continued in towns north of York in coming weeks, according to Fleming.
“It’ll be an educational experience,” he said.
Today’s detail will last only a few hours and will include an electronic message board asking motorists to observe the law. State police will pull over drivers who don’t and give them an information card explaining why they were stopped.
Since 2003, motorists have struck 16 state police cruisers from behind while troopers were parked alongside the road, according to the Maine Department of Public Safety. An intoxicated motorist struck Trooper Mike Edes’ cruiser in 2000 in Falmouth, putting Edes out of work for six months. Several police officers struck by motorists have been hospitalized in past years, according to Fleming, and some suffer from their injuries years later.
“I worked the interstate myself for nine years; the speed limit is 65 and most people drive at least that fast when they go by,” Fleming said. “Most people continue on with whatever speed they were doing.”
Fleming said he was unsure where police will continue the experiment, but state police do plan to continue enforcement until the end of the summer and later.
The law only covers emergency vehicles but “there have been a number of [Department of Transportation] trucks struck over the years including one as recently as a week ago,” according to Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety.
The state police chose the turnpike for today’s detail because of its large amount of traffic but “as we move forward we’ll be looking elsewhere” for spots to continue enforcement, Fleming said.