Tougher Pa. Move Over law heads to governor's desk

The bill, which increases the penalties for failing to yield to emergency and work vehicles, was passed unanimously in both chambers of the state legislature

Jan Murphy

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Legislation aimed at protecting the lives of first responders and tow truck operators at emergency scenes on roadways is heading to Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk.

Senate Bill 1281, which rebrands the state’s “Steer Clear” law to “Move Over,” would impose new rules that motorists must observe when approaching traffic stops by law enforcement and disabled vehicles marked by at least two indicators such as hazard lights and flares. It also imposes stiffer penalties if passing drivers don’t observe these new requirements.

First responders across Pennsylvania traveled to the state capitol in September to push for the passage of Senate Bill 1281, which rebrands the state's
First responders across Pennsylvania traveled to the state capitol in September to push for the passage of Senate Bill 1281, which rebrands the state's "Steer Clear" law to "Move Over" and increases penalties for motorists who fail to yield to emergency and work vehicles. The bill made final passage this week and is headed to the governor's desk. (Photo/Hempfield Fire Department Facebook)

A spokeswoman for the governor said Wolf does intend to sign this bill into law that passed both chambers unanimously. The measure would then take effect 180 days after its enactment.

So far this year, 39 first responders have been killed nationwide while working roadside incidents: 17 tow truck operators, 1 mobile mechanic, 3 fire/EMS personnel and 3 Safety Service Patrol Operators.

Those numbers include two Pennsylvania first responders: tow operator/firefighter Tyler Laudenslager of Halifax and paramedic Matt Smelser of Charleroi, Washington County.

“It’s gone too far,” said Sen. Doug Mastriano, R- Franklin County, in urging his Senate colleagues on Wednesday to support the bill he sponsored along with Sens. Kim Ward, R- Westmoreland County, and John DiSanto, R- Dauphin/ Perry counties.

“No family should have to experience the avoidable death of a loved one like this, and [Wednesday’s] action by the Legislature, coming exactly three months since Tyler’s untimely death, is a tribute to his memory that will help avoid future tragedies,” DiSanto said.

Specifically, the bill requires motorists to move over to an adjacent lane at an emergency response area and if that’s not possible, to slow down to a speed of no more than 20 miles per hour less than the posted speed limit.

Failure to do so would result in fines of $500 for the first offense, $1,000 for the second, and $2,000 for any subsequent offense, all of which are double what current law allows.

Additionally, a motorist who violates these rules would get two points on their license. If a motorist causes bodily injury or death to a person or an emergency service responder in these situations, the motorist also could be subject to a driver’s license suspension.

Despite the safety reasons its supporters cited for putting such a law on the books, James Sikorski Jr., Pennsylvania advocate for the National Motorists Association, sees it as having the potential to make the roadways more dangerous.

Forcing vehicles to make rapid lane changes or immediately slow down is unsafe, he said. Further, Sikorski adds, “Many people are also not going to know what emergency response areas or disabled vehicles are according to the law.”

Additionally, he said it calls for “super penalties for people who may make a mistake. While the bill sounds good, it clearly is not. A bill like this is also very subjective and depends upon how the cop perceives a situation.”

Ward, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, defended the measure, saying, “Our first responders risk their lives every day when answering calls on our roadways. The unanimous passage of this bill should send a clear message to all motorists to ‘Move Over’ and slow down for the safety and protection of our first responders.”


(c)2020 The Patriot-News (Harrisburg, Pa.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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