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Look Out for Police Officers Involved in Traffic Stops

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A national poll by Mason Dixon Polling & Research sponsored by the National Safety Commission revealed that 71 percent of Americans have not heard of so-called “move over” laws. This raises the question: If American’s aren’t aware that such laws exist, how do we protect law enforcement officials and first responders from being injured during routine traffic stops and roadside emergencies?

Virginia State Police Senior Trooper Stephen E. Hawkins, 56, serves as an example of the need for move over laws. The officer was struck by a tractor-trailer in September 2010 while conducting a traffic stop on I-664 in Chesapeake, VA. Although he suffered serious injuries — including a broken leg and internal bleeding — his motorcycle helmet and heavy leather jacket provided him just enough protection to save his life.

Unable to return to work, Hawkins has filed a $5 million lawsuit against the owner and the driver of the tractor-trailer. The suit alleges the truck driver was traveling at a “dangerous and high rate of speed” at the time of the accident. The driver also failed to abide by the state law requiring drivers to change lanes when passing police officers conducting traffic stops.

In a more recent incident, a dashboard camera in a police cruiser captured video of a car hitting a Florida (FL) Highway Patrol trooper who had just pulled over a motorist on I-95. Such occurrences are becoming more frequent and need to be addressed.

Move Over, America

Since 1999, at least 160 U.S. law enforcement officers have been killed after being struck by vehicles along highways, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. To keep that deadly toll from rising, several traffic safety and law enforcement groups came together in a coaliton in 2007 and launched a nationwide public awareness campaign aimed at protecting emergency personnel. Since than 43 states have adopted move over laws.

Such laws are quite simple: If you see flashing lights from a fire truck or police car, move over to give safe clearance to law enforcement officers and emergency responders on roadsides. If you absolutely can’t change lanes safely, slow down. Virginia’s move over law took effect in 2002. Under the law, failing to take action to protect police and emergency personnel working on a road's shoulder is a class 1 misdemeanor.

About the Editors: The Shapiro, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, which has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as pro bono services.