BRUNSWICK, Maine — Standing inches from the travel lane on Route 1 to issue the driver of a white Jeep a warning for speeding Thursday morning, Brunswick police Officer Patrick Mahar glances frequently at oncoming traffic zooming toward him at about 60 mph.
That’s 90 feet per second of steel that, at times, brushes past him close enough “to make the hair stand up on the back of my neck,” Mahar said.
Primarily occupied with the driver of the Jeep — a 21-year-old Connecticut man clocked at 70 in a 55-mph zone — Mahar stays constantly aware of other motorists who fail to heed Maine’s “Move Over Law” and sometimes pass within inches of his body.
The 10-year-old law requires drivers on Maine’s highways and interstates to pull into the other lane and-or slow down for a stopped emergency vehicle. In 2007, the law was modified to include wreckers at the scene of a crash.
When motorists fail to heed the law, the consequences can include a hefty fine. For law enforcement officers, the consequences could be much more devastating.
In 2003, Maine State Police Trooper William Baker’s cruiser was struck by a tractor-trailer that failed to move over on Interstate 295 in Palmyra while Baker was conducting a traffic stop.
Then, said Brunswick police Lt. Tom Garrepy, “There was a case at the Connecticut police academy many years ago when a trooper’s patch was imprinted in the metal on a passing truck.”
Maine State Police cruisers have been hit by motorists who failed to heed the law, or who in some cases were intoxicated, according to Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety.
“We have also had a number of close calls,” he said Thursday.
Sometimes vehicles simply can’t change lanes because of heavy traffic — as occurred occasionally on Thursday morning along Route 1.
“At that point, we just ask them to at least slow down appropriately,” McCausland said.
Mahar acknowledged that many people don’t seem to be aware of the Move Over Law, and McCausland said the state police focus on educating the public about it rather than enforcing the law.
Officers take a number of specific precautions to reduce the risk posed by passing cars. Garrepy said they are encouraged at times to approach a driver from the passenger side of a stopped vehicle, so that if a crash occurs, the officer can escape injury by bounding off the roadway.
Mahar said he worries more during the day, when drivers are more distracted, than at night when the blue lights of a police car are more visible. Crash scenes also are dangerous, because although officers will attempt to keep victims and rescue personnel out of the roadway, it doesn’t always happen, and passers-by often take their eyes off the road to gawk at the crash.
State and local police continue to urge drivers to heed the Move Over Law and pull into the passing lane when it’s possible or slow down when it’s not.
“It gives police officers and emergency crews along a highway some working room,” McCausland said. “It’s a much safer environment for folks out there, who are usually helping folks in distress. They could be stopping a car for enforcement, but it could also be a wrecker out changing a flat tire or a firefighter putting out a fire, or an ambulance at a crash scene. It’s primarily a matter of safety, and just giving them a little extra room to work safely along a busy highway.”
To see more from The Times Record, visit timesrecord.com.