Move Over Laws Under Federal Scrutiny                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     By: Maria T. Padilla

The federal government will undertake a review of the nation’s Move Over laws, their impact and challenges.  The mandate comes from U.S. Senators Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin of Illinois, who in July asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to take a closer look at Move Over laws following the roadside deaths of three Illinois State Police earlier this year.  “This review will help us better understand existing policies and practices related to ‘Move Over’ laws,” stated the Senate letter to the GAO, which also asked for recommendations for agency and congressional action.  Others who attached their names to the request include U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska and U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos of Illinois.  Each of the 50 states has a Move Over law aimed at protecting first responders who work roadside, often including tow truck operators, by requiring that motorists either move over one lane or slow down by 15 to 20 miles per hour or more when they see flashing lights.  However, critics state the law doesn’t go far enough to prevent roadside injuries and deaths among first responders.  This appears to be the first time the federal government is paying attention to Move Over Laws.

National Crisis                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Space is the No. 1 thing roadside workers need to do their jobs and return home safely.  The problem is that few people are aware of their state’s Move Over laws, according to national studies.  What’s more, the laws are poorly enforced.  After over a dozen crashes and deaths of the three state police-two within days of each other-Illinois added 2,000 additional hours of Move Over enforcement, including the use of drones, to catch violators, according to news accounts.  At press time, nearly 5,000 fines have been issued.  The state governor may sign a bill increasing fines from $100 to $250 for the first offense, with $750 for a second violation and up to $10,000 for repeat offenders.  “The law is only as valuable as its application, and unfortunately Move Over violations are difficult to enforce, posing a national crisis,” states a recent article in Officer.com.  According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, over 150 law enforcement officers have been struck and killed by vehicles along the nation’s highways since 1999, the article continued.

Tow Operators Ignored                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Unfortunately, tow truck operators can beat those statistics.  Thus far, 30 towing operators nationwide have died in mostly roadside accidents in 2019, by Tow Times’ count as of press time.  That’s up nearly double from mid-2018, when about 16 tow truck drivers had died roadside.  In fact, that fatality rate among tow truck drivers is more than 15 times the rate for all U.S. private industries, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), which conducted its first study ever of the towing industry using Department of Labor data.  Results were published earlier this year.  “Unitl now, nonfatal injuries and deaths in the motor vehicle towing industry have been largely overlooked.  The findings from this study underscore the need for additional research and tailored prevention efforts,” the NIOSH study urged.

Riled Up                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Nothing gets towing operators and drivers riled up like ignorance of Move Over laws, speeders, distracted and drunk drivers and others that often put their lives at risk.  “Get off the cell phone and start paying attention to your surroundings.  I’m tired of going to funerals,” wrote one on Facebook.  “I see it daily not moving over.  Instead, [they] speed up and get closer,” posted another.  The news that Congress was urging the GAO to review Move Over laws – which are state-level laws, not federal ones – prompted one reader to suggest, “To Congress, how about $1,500 to $5,000 fine without causing death, and for repeat offenders one to 10 years without causing death.” For this reader, the roadside death of a first responder calls for life in prison with parole after 30 years.

GAO Review                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              The federal lawmakers specifically asked the GAO to review:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1.”What is known about the effectiveness of ‘Move Over’ law;

2.”What federal funding and other assistance are available to States to help educate the public about the requirement of ‘Move Over’ laws; and

3. “What challenges do States face in implementing ‘Move Over’ laws, and what leading practices have States used to successfully implement these laws….?”

The GAO, considered the federal government’s watchdog, expects to begin its review in early fall.  Susan Fleming, a GAO director of physical infrastructure including surface transportation issues, indicated the federal agency first must put together a team, which then spends several months establishing the scope and methodology of the work.  Fleming said it’s too early to provide more details.  “So, at this point, we really don’t know how we will do this work.”

Will It Make a Difference?

A driving question behind the GAO review is, will be effective or will it make a difference?  According to a study published by Deloitte University Press, a unit of Deloitte Development LLC, 81 perecent of GAO’s recommendations were successfully completed by federal agencies in the 25-year period between 1983 and 2008.  “The high success rate of implementing GAO recommendations has been consistent over time,” the study stated.  But, the study warns, it can federal agencies up to four years to implement a GAO recommendation.  Moreover, transportation is not an area or topic with which the GAO has had great success, according to Deloitte.  (Successful topics include information security, education, information technology and equal opportunity.)  Still, it is encouraging that a national review of states’ Move Over laws is about to be conducted, with the potential to make national recommendations for improvements that may save the lives of tow truck operators and other first responders.