Four Maine State Police troopers were injured in the past six weeks … not by flying bullets or squabbling spouses but by motorists who refused to pull over and give them the room to do their jobs.
The troopers had stopped to assist motorists in distress, investigate accidents or perform other tasks requiring them to leave their cruisers by the side of a busy highway. In the process, they faced what is statistically the leading cause of death among police officers: motor vehicle crashes.
Police say motorists are generally more aware of the need to pull over when an emergency vehicle approaches them from behind. However, when a cruiser or other emergency vehicle is stopped with emergency lights flashing, one veteran officer says many drivers simply hang on and hope for the best as they speed past.
Maine law requires motorists who pass a stopped cruiser to pull over into the passing lane; if that’s not possible, the driver must, at the very least, slow down and give the trooper and vehicle as wide a berth as possible. Since Jan. 1, several drivers have not done so, causing the four trooper injuries and damage to six cruisers.
Some readers might blame the unusually cold weather or a statistical fluke. But Maine State Police have been keeping track of such accidents for the past three years. There have been 24 crashes involving stopped cruisers with lights flashing, and 12 troopers have been injured.
The minimum fine for failing to obey the “Move Over Law,” as it has become known, is $311. Often, a trooper who experiences a close call is not in a position to go after the offending vehicle. That’s where colleagues come in.
Last Monday night, a trooper and a private vehicle were stopped on a section of highway in the Portland area. Several other troopers heard that traffic was heavy and took the initiative to enforce the law. They set up their cruisers to observe passing motorists and, where offenses were noted, to pull them over. The result: 40 summonses were issued, 11 for failing to move over.
“Our enforcement is not to collect fines,” said Steve McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety. “It is to keep troopers and other first responders safe.”
The “Move Over Law,” passed in 2007, applies to police, firefighters, EMTs and virtually all people who work in fields related to public safety. However, many people still don’t know the law exists.
As consumers of Maine’s roadways, we’re all depending on troopers and other emergency responders to keep us safe. We can return the favor simply by pulling out of the way or slowing down. Yet, sadly, many drivers will not demonstrate this simple courtesy.
“We accept there are risks,” Trooper Christopher Rogers told a reporter recently. “Anything the public can do to help minimize that risk is appreciated.”
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