His name was Ronnie Lerma, he served as a police officer in my hometown, Garland, TX. Ronnie was a mountain of a man with a gentle spirit. I had met Ronnie several times at the dealership I owned at the time. I have always been a proud supporter of our first responders. On September 21, 1998, Ronnie stopped a vehicle on I-635 for speeding. As he reached for his ticket book from his motorcycle, he was struck by a van and killed. Ronnie was 39 and left behind a wife and two children. The driver he had pulled over died also.
You may be wondering why I share this with you, and the answer is it didn’t need to happen. Odds are good Ronnie would have retired this year with 30 years on the force, except a driver wasn’t paying attention and strayed into the median. Worse, 19 years ago drivers were not nearly as distracted as they are today. Cell phones were not as widely in use, and there was no such thing as texting or answering emails while going down the road.
I do a lot of driving, both in the city and in the country and I see people all the time driving in the right lane when a first responder has pulled over. It may be a police officer writing a ticket, an EMT administering aid, a firefighter responding to a fire, a roadside assistance person changing a tire, road workers, or a wrecker helping a stranded motorist. The answer is simple: move over a lane or as far away as possible, and if you cannot move over, SLOW DOWN.
Besides saving lives, possibly including your own, moving over and/or slowing down, it is the law. I am amazed more people do not realize this, but the fact is, all 50 states have a law that says you must move away from the emergency vehicle, or slow way down. In a recent survey, more than 50% of licensed drivers were not aware of the “move over” law.
Odds are good you have been on the side of the road yourself for some reason and had cars whizzing by you fast enough to make your vehicle rock. Imagine a police officer standing there, focused on his or her job. Think about this for a moment: since 1999, 213 police officers have been struck and killed by vehicles while on duty, and in my opinion, every one of those deaths was preventable.
Looking at all the state laws in America, the majority are written to require drivers to merge away from an emergency vehicle or vehicle with flashing lights, including wreckers. If that is not possible, you are required to slow down to at least 20 miles per hour under the posted speed limit.
As time has gone on, first responders have learned to try to use their vehicles to protect themselves, but it often doesn’t help. In some cities, the fire department rolls fire trucks on freeway accidents to serve strictly as a blocker to protect the police and EMTs. We also see a high instance of drunk drivers running into emergency responders after dark and in the wee hours of the morning, making emergency stops even more dangerous.
Please help spread the word that not only is moving over and slowing down the right thing to do, it can keep you from facing manslaughter charges, and it is the law.