Massachusetts Car and Truck Drivers: Slow Down and Move Over to Prevent Accidents–It’s the Law!

Massachusetts drivers now have another law to obey: Drivers need to slow down and move over when approaching stationary police, emergency response, and construction vehicles that have their lights flashing. The penalty: $100, and your insurance rates will probably also go up.

This well intentioned bill was enacted to prevent injuries caused by car accidents. First responders to accident scenes and work crews have suffered serious injuries as the result of negligent drivers who fail to slow and move over, and the legislation is designed to make their work safer.

But can you legislate this kind of safety? The bill itself is quite vague. A driver is required to change lanes “if practicable.” A driver is required to reduce his or her speed to a “reasonable and safe speed for road conditions.” How will that be judged?  And will emergency vehicles leave the scene to chase down violators of this new law?

Saving lives and preventing injuries are, of course, important goals. But real safety comes from a broader awareness of our duty to ensure the safety of emergency and construction personnel, and that awareness begins with proper driving training. It also begins with simple common sense and courtesy.

Here is the text of the new law, known as Chapter 418 of the Acts of 2008:

Chapter 418 of the Acts of 2008

AN ACT RELATIVE TO OPERATING A MOTOR VEHICLE WHEN APPROACHING STATIONARY EMERGENCY VEHICLES.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Court assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:

Chapter 89 of the General Laws is hereby amended by inserting after section 7B the following section:-

Section 7C.  (a) As used in this section the following words shall, unless the context clearly requires otherwise, have the following meanings:

 
“Emergency response vehicle”, a fire apparatus, police vehicle, ambulance, or disaster vehicle.

“Highway maintenance vehicle”, a vehicle used for the maintenance of highways and roadways: (1) that is owned or operated by the executive office of transportation and public works, a county, a municipality or any political subdivision thereof; or (2) that is owned or operated by a person under contract with the executive office of transportation and public works, a county, a municipality or any political subdivision thereof.

“Operator”, any person who operates a motor vehicle as defined in section 1 of chapter 90.
“Person”, a natural person, corporation, association, partnership or other legal entity.

“Recovery vehicle”, a vehicle that is specifically designed to assist a disabled vehicle or to tow a disabled vehicle. 

(b)  Upon approaching a stationary emergency vehicle, highway maintenance vehicle or recovery vehicle with flashing lights an operator shall:

(1)  proceed with due caution, reduce the speed of the vehicle to that of a reasonable and safe speed for road conditions, and, if practicable and on a highway having at least 4 lanes with not less than 2 lanes proceeding in the same direction as the operator’s vehicle, yield the right-of-way by making a lane change into a lane not adjacent to that of the emergency response vehicle, highway maintenance vehicle or recovery vehicle; or 

(2)  if changing lanes is impracticable, proceed with due caution and reduce the speed of the vehicle to that of a reasonable and safe speed for road conditions. 

(c)  Violation of this section shall be punished by a fine of not more than $100.

We hope this law does improve highway safety and prevent motor vehicle accidents.

More Information

Law makes drivers move over, slow down for emergency vehicles, Boston Globe, March 18, 2009.

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