THP and WBIR test of 'Move Over Law' demonstrates danger

(WBIR) The Tennessee Highway Patrol's social media push for drivers to move over for stopped vehicles is now going national. This weekend, state troopers from Michigan to Florida will be out in full force on I-75 to ensure safety. That includes the need for drivers to move over for stopped emergency vehicles.

In May, photos of THP troopers holding signs with the #MoveOver hashtag went viral. The social media campaign was in response to a Nashville police officer who was hit and killed while working an accident on I-65 in Brentwood.

Tuesday morning, WBIR teamed up with the Tennessee Highway Patrol to conduct a short test that demonstrated the dangers facing workers in stopped vehicles on a daily basis.

We parked a THP cruiser on the shoulder of Interstate 40 in Loudon County, turned on the vehicle's rear blue lights, then left it behind as we relocated to a nearby overpass. Then we watched how drivers respond to the roadside emergency vehicle.

"We're trying to demonstrate the 'move over law.' The law says you have to move over a full lane if available or slow down if you are unable to change lanes," said Lt. Don Boshears. "There's just not much room for error when we're working out there and the law is there for a reason."

The conditions we set up clearly put the odds in favor of drivers to safely pass the vehicle and the test.

"This is a perfect location. You have a long straight-away and it is coming uphill. They [drivers] have a good field of view and can see this vehicle at least a quarter-mile before they get to it," said Sgt. Randall Martin. "Traffic is really light. The weather is clear. These conditions are ideal."

The location chosen by WBIR and THP was also on a stretch of interstate that is not close to any exit ramps. Therefore, drivers would not feel compelled to stay in the right lane in preparation for a nearby exit. Furthermore, traffic would not move to the left lane to go around slower exiting traffic. Any movement between lanes would almost entirely be in response to the THP cruiser.

In short, the site provided no excuses for drivers who failed to move over. On the bright side, most drivers did not need an excuse.

"Almost everybody appears to be doing what they're supposed to be doing," said Martin. "You have these large commercial trucks signaling very early to get over. A lot of times they also communicate with each other on radios, which is good. The drivers are seeing the vehicle and getting over a full lane."

A large transfer truck in more congested traffic was unable to move over to the left lane. The driver followed the law and slowed down.

"The person driving that truck probably doesn't have the opportunity to get over. As you can see, there a large truck beside him. He has slowed down some and that's what we're looking for. We want you to get over, but we don't want you to cut somebody off and cause an accident. If you cannot get over, slow down to a safe speed."

In one case, a car was following a commercial truck too closely to see around it and notice the emergency vehicle. When the truck moved over, the car began to "shoot the gap" to pass it in the right lane.

"You'll have drivers who see an opening when people move over. They accelerate without knowing there is an emergency vehicle stopped on the side of the road," said Boshears.

Even with nearly perfect conditions, many drivers failed to steer clear and follow the law.

"You see these cars just going along in the right lane. They are not slowing down. There is no indication of a lane change. They maintained the same speed," said Martin. "Look at the Jeep there. There's no excuse for that vehicle not to be moving [into the left lane]. He has nothing beside him, but he stays in the right lane without slowing down and flies by. I have no idea what these people's excuse could be other than not paying attention."

When we parked a vehicle on the shoulder of a less favorable location on I-40 East prior to the Hall of Fame exit, almost no drivers moved over from the right lane. That was the case despite three lanes available to drivers in that part of the interstate.

"You're sitting in the car and you feel the car rock because they're so close to you," said Boshears. "We've had people get hit, doors taken off vehicles, and more close calls than we can count."

Troopers say when you are driving and move over, you do more than avoid your own collision. You also help influence other drivers to move over.

"People like to follow the leader. If somebody gets over, that's a little infectious. Other people start to follow suit. You are literally sending a signal for others to move over. You see it here repeatedly where if one car gets over, all of the others will get over. Then you get one car in the right lane that does not move over and they all stay in the right lane," said Martin.

On the whole, the large majority of drivers followed the law in our ideal setting. Unfortunately for workers in stopped vehicles, it only takes one driver to create a fatal situation. For troopers, #moveover is more than a hashtag. It is a matter of life and death.

"I think most people want to get over. They just don't think about it until it's too late," said Boshears. "It just takes that one instance where everything can go really bad. Whether it is law enforcement, utility crews, wrecker services, or someone changing a flat tire, be sure to think about how much room you want out there and try to provide it to others."

"This is important because people die. It's about saving lives. Give us some space," said Martin.

Violating the "Move Over Law" in Tennessee carries a maximum fine of up to $500 and possibly up to 30 days in jail.


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