Lexington police, AAA warn about driver behavior that threatens first responders

·3 min read

Move over laws like Kentucky’s are frequently ignored by drivers, according to recent AAA survey of police, fire and tow truck drivers.

Kentucky’s law, which requires drivers to move to another lane when an emergency vehicle with flashing lights is on the side of the road, has been in place since 2003. The law was expanded in 2011 to include all emergency or public safety vehicles with flashing lights, such as tow trucks and utility trucks.

According to the AAA survey, almost 70 percent of first responders said in their experience, motorists do not slow down and move over for those working along the side of the road. Furthermore, 90 percent of the first responders, tow truck drivers and roadside workers polled said they personally have been involved in a near-miss incident or had their lives threatened because a motorist failed to move over, with more than 30 percent saying it happens “routinely.”

The survey of first responders and roadside workers was conducted in 13 states, including Kentucky and the District of Columbia, from Sept. 10-19.

“An average of 24 first responders are killed every year while working along the roadside – that’s a tragic loss of life every other week,” Lori Weaver Hawkins, public and government affairs manager for AAA Blue Grass, said in a press release. “AAA and our traffic safety partners supported the passage of the Move Over law here in Kentucky, but, clearly there is still work to be done to ensure the safety of anyone disabled at the roadside and the first responders who come to their aid.”

“If you’re on the side of the road, working, it doesn’t really matter what color the light bar is on top. It’s the same risk,” Lexington police Lt. Chris Van Brackel said.

Van Brackel, like many law enforcement officers, has a personal near-miss experience. While conducting a routine traffic stop as an officer for a department in Illinois, he was in the middle of writing a ticket when a truck suddenly took off his driver’s side mirror.

Van Brackel said the truck driver had no idea what happened until other officers pulled him over and told him.

“You’re sitting there writing the ticket then there’s the bang and you look and there’s no mirror left,” Van Brackel said. “That kind of sets in to, wow, if he would’ve been an inch further over, the mirror probably would’ve stayed. If he would’ve been an inch further in, how would that have ended up?”

Seth Pierce, the AAA Fleet Supervisor in Lexington, said he’s had near-miss experiences as well. He said he’s even had a driver purposely swerve towards him and yell, “whoa” while driving by as Pierce was working on the side of the road.

“You have to keep your head on a swivel,” Pierce said.

Almost all of the AAA trucks have a yellow diamond-shaped sticker on the back window of the truck that reads, “slow down & move over!”

Pierce and Van Brackel think part of the solution is making the public aware of the issue.

“At the very least, most of the people that I’m seeing nowadays that can’t get over are at least slowing down,” Pierce said. “I guess I would take that. It would be better than nothing.”

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