Move Over Law & Proposed Electronic Device Law Aim to Reduce Deaths

Move Over Law & Proposed Electronic Device Law Aim to Reduce Deaths

(Drew Saunders, Feb. 5, 2018)

Oakland County, MI  – Cops, firefighters, ambulance drivers and tow truck operators run the risk of being run over every time they get out to help someone in trouble on the side of the road. Oakland County Sheriff Deputy Dave Hack was run over by a passing car while working on the side of a road just last month. Dangers faced by public servants like Hack is why a local entity called Move Over Michigan has been working for over two years to reduce the risk of that happening by providing public educational videos, setting up information booths at various conferences and pushing for updated traffic laws.

Michigan already has a law where when approaching a roadside accident on a road with two lanes going in each direction, the driver is supposed to slow down and get into the far lane, to allow first responders room to do their jobs safely. If that can’t be done, or if you’re on a two-lane road, then you’re supposed to slow down and give the responders as much room as possible while passing the incident. Failing to do so can result in a $250 ticket for the first offense and a $500 for a second offense. But drivers are not following the law routinely.

“There’s a tow truck driver killed every six days in the United States,” Move Over Michigan Chairman Bill Beyers told the Oakland County Times.

Meyers is a tow truck operator by trade. The US Labor Department’s Office of Safety and Health Administration recorded 107 incidents of tow truck drivers being killed or injured last year in the United States last year alone. That is part of what prompted Meyers to form Move Over Michigan to improve conditions for first responders, which are often tow truck operators.

“Unfortunately, tow truck operators can’t protect the scenes. They have to get in front of the vehicles and all around the vehicles. Fire departments, because of the tow truck industry, have been trained now to park and protect the scene and our people,” Groveland Township Fire Chief, and Move Over Michigan member, Steve McGee said. “An ambulance will park in front of the scene and put a [fire] engine behind the scene so that’s what gets hit if anything gets hit.”

But there is always a window of time between when the first responder gets their – often a cop or a tow truck operator – and when a larger vehicle arrives to protect them. Standard procedures of laying out signs or flares is not always practical, should the incident prove life threatening. To improve matters, Beyers wants to the Move Over law to be part of driver’s education.

“I’m in the process right now with the Secretary of State’s office of trying to get questions put on the state driving license test and renewal,” Beyers said.

The Michigan Secretary of State’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration estimated that 3,477 were killed by “distracted driving” in the United States in 2015, and that around 391,000 were injured. Cell phones contributed to 1,893 crashes in Michigan, according to the Michigan State Police’s 2016 Michigan Traffic Crash Facts.

In the last decade, Move Over Michigan and the State Police both said that smart phones, and other devices in the car, have contributed to distracted driving. They are supported by the Transportation Improvement Association, which is a member of Move Over Michigan.

Jim Santilli, CEO of the Traffic Improvement Association said that his organization’s analysis found that 5,118 people were injured in 12,819 crashes “involving a distracted driver during 2016.” Santilli believes that the numbers are “artificially low” because responding officers won’t necessarily ask someone involved in a crash if they were using an electronic device when they got into an accident.

Santilli also rode with the police to observe them cracking down on drivers using their phones in the car during Operation Ghost Rider last year. In this operation – involving multiple state, county and local jurisdictions – an unmarked police car drove around the suburbs to observe people using their phones while driving, then radioed in marked police cars to stop them.

Michigan State Police Commander Monica Yesh told the Oakland County Times that distracted driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving.

“Our traffic crashes have increased over the years,” Yesh said. “If you look at the fault of the driver it’s more likely that they’re not paying attention, or they’re driving too fast, or they’re not stopping in time. And the reason they’re not stopping in time is that their attention is diverted.”

Yesh added that distracted driving can include looking at their phones, getting food somewhere in the car, or even adjusting the radio.  The bill does allow for one-touch or one-swipe uses such as GPS.

“Any time your attention is diverted or your reflexes are slowed down causes great concern for us on the freeway,” Yesh added.

In addition to raising public awareness through the media, Move Over Michigan and the Transportation Improvement Association of Michigan have been working with State Representative Martin Howrylak to update the state’s already extant distracted driving law.

“We’ve got a statute right now that is operating on 1990’s technology, talking about text messaging only,” Howrylak said.

The update would ban watching videos, using GPS or any other electronic task while driving, except for calling 911. Hands-free electronic apps would be allowed, however.

The bill is currently in the State House’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Howrylak doubts it will pass this year. But the Troy Republican has secured two fellow GOPers and three Democrats to try to ensure that it’ll end up on the Governor’s desk at some point, whether or not he’s there.

“[What] we need people to remember is that police officers, fire fighters, emergency medical service workers and anyone else at the scene are out there to help somebody,” Santilli said. “… We need the public to understand that they’re out there to do good and we need to keep them safe. We should not be putting their lives in jeopardy because you don’t want to move over.”

Learn more about the Move Over Michigan effort at http://www.moveovermichigan.com/.

NOTE: This store has been updated to include that one-swipe uses are permitted, and to correct Bill Beyers name due to a typo.

 

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