Most jobs have risks associated with them, but very few have the risk of a vehicle flying through your workspace at 70 mph.
South Carolina Code of Laws Section 56-5-1538, commonly known as the “Move Over” law, requires motorists to “move over” into the far lane whenever possible when passing an emergency scene or a highway work zone.
Despite the law being on the books since 1996, though, many motorists still don’t know that it’s a law or that violating it is a misdemeanor that can carry a fine of between $300 and $500.
“It happens a lot,” said Lance Cpl. Judd Jones with S.C. Highway Patrol. “A lot of people are just not aware there is a ‘Move Over’ law, so we try to educate them on that and let them know.”
South Carolina was one of the first states to pass a “Move Over” law after a paramedic named James Garcia was struck by a vehicle while responding to a wreck in Lexington in January 1994. Garcia – not the motorist – was listed at fault in the incident. This led to the creation of the law two years later to protect not only emergency responders but also road workers.
According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, more than 150 law enforcement officers have been killed since 1999 after being struck by vehicles on U.S. roadways.
“That’s one of the major fears of law enforcement officers – getting hit on the side of the road instead of getting shot on the side of the road,” Jones said. “There are more officers killed each year getting struck by moving vehicles than actually being shot in traffic stops.”
And South Carolina had its share of incidents in 2012.
On Dec. 3, a 21-year-old Department of Transportation worker named Nicholas Johnson was clearing debris from the side of Interstate 20 when he was struck by a vehicle. He later died of his injuries.
On Oct. 24, a police officer in Summerville survived after being struck by a vehicle while responding to a wreck on the side of U.S. 78.
On July 20, Trooper First Class Howard James was working a wreck on Interstate 26 in Orangeburg County when a vehicle struck his patrol car, causing his car to strike him. He was hospitalized in the intensive care unit but survived.
According to a national poll by Mason Dixon Polling and Research, sponsored by the National Safety Commission, 71 percent of Americans have not heard of “Move Over” laws.
“Some people (move over) out of common courtesy and don’t even know that it’s a law,” Jones said.
Aiken resident Jeni Stanley is one of them.
“I agree completely,” she said of the law. “I did not know it was a law, but it’s courtesy. I move over every time, regardless. That’s just what you do.”
Stanley said she frequently sees people violating the law.
“I would say maybe two out of five people will move over,” she said. “A lot of people, I don’t know if it’s just laziness or they just don’t care. I notice it more on the interstates.”
“I knew about that law, I just didn’t know that’s what it was called,” said Kayla Godson of Aiken. “To tell you the truth, I see people moving over quite a bit. I don’t see people not adhering to it very often.”
“I thought it was common courtesy,” said Chris Watson of Aiken. “I don’t know that I knew, necessarily, that it was a law. If it was an ambulance or fire truck or police, I know that you had to get over.”
The law hits close to home for Aiken County, where Sgt. Jason Sheppard of the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office was killed in December 2006 after being struck by a vehicle while directing traffic at an industrial fire scene on U.S. 1. He was 29.
Steve Deibel, owner and founder of Aiken Driving Academy, was an officer with the Sheriff’s Office when the accident happened.
“He had just gotten there,” Deibel said. “He was on his way home from work, pulled over and asked the supervisor if he could help.” Despite his reflective vest, flashing emergency lights and handheld flashlight he was carrying, an oncoming motorist struck Sheppard. He was airlifted to Georgia Health Sciences University but later died of a head injury.
Deibel said he addresses the law in his classes. He said law enforcement officers take some precautions on roadsides, such as approaching the passenger side of a vehicle, but motorists still need to do their part.
“It gives officers and emergency personnel that much more room to work,” he said, adding that motorists passing an emergency scene need to pay attention to the road in front of them instead of “getting sucked into the blue lights.”
Deibel said there was some media about the law when it came out, but more attention needs to be drawn to it.
“It’s not that (motorists) don’t want to move over, it’s that they don’t know that they have to,” he said. “Just put that in people’s minds, so we don’t have another Jason.”