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Virginia expands 'Move Over' law

From time to time, travelers inquire if there's a law that requires drivers to change lanes when approaching an emergency vehicle by the side of a highway. Answer: Yes, in most places, and in Virginia, the law was just expanded.

These are generally referred to as "Move Over" laws, and they are intended to protect police and emergency workers engaged in enforcement or rescue work on the side of a highway. As the laws are generally written, a driver must either change lanes to move away from the scene of the action, or, if that's not possible, slow down.

Virginia, the only jurisdiction in the D.C. region with such a law, broadened it as of July 1. Until now, the law covered vehicles with flashing red or blue lights. In its 2010 session, the Virginia General Assembly passed House Bill 1159, sponsored by Del. G. Glenn Oder (R-Newport News) that adds vehicles displaying amber flashing lights. The reason for broadening the palette was to include protection for tow trucks and highway workers.

In August 2009, a tow truck driver named Andy Starmer was struck and killed on the shoulder of Interstate 64 in Newport News. He had stopped at night to help a motorist on the right shoulder. Starmer, 36, was wearing reflective clothing and had his truck's amber lights flashing when he was hit.

Most states have these laws, and Maryland should add itself to the list.

By Robert Thomson  | July 6, 2010; 2:47 PM ET
Categories:  Driving, Traffic Safety  | Tags:  Dr. Gridlock  
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Comments

I am always confused. I know that sometimes you move wherever there is space to move, but should drivers pull to the left or the right if there is an option?

Posted by: loved1 | July 6, 2010 3:53 PM | Report abuse

I wanted to add that the "move over" practice is made difficult in places like DC where police officers ride with their red and blues swirling all the time for no apparent reason. This happens a lot on Bladensburg Rd. near NY Ave.

Posted by: loved1 | July 6, 2010 4:07 PM | Report abuse

If I recall correctly, DC police cars are always supposed to have their lights running. This was made a policy a few years ago to increase visibility.

Posted by: kim6160 | July 6, 2010 4:27 PM | Report abuse

@loved1:

This post is talking about when you are approaching emergency vehicles that are already stopped on the side of the road. Therefore, you move away from the side where the vehicle is stopped. Typically, they'll be stopped on the right side (as usually happens when police pull someone over) so you move into the left lane as you pass them, or slow down if you can not move left safely.

Posted by: gasdorian | July 6, 2010 4:38 PM | Report abuse

Dr. G - I'd like to zero in on one key word - "highway." If I am driving down Route 7 in Tysons Corner, a 35 mph zone, and someone is pulled over on the right shoulder, and I am about to make a right turn just past them, do I have to move left, and then move back right again? Does this only apply on (limited access) freeways, or on all roads? I know that some states, such as Florida, have a proviso that if you can't move over, you have to slow down to the posted speed limit minus 25 mph.

I know that common sense should reign here, but law enforcement officers (understandably) react quite promptly when they sense that themselves, or a fellow trooper is in danger, and also (less understandably) have used this as a money grab/"gotcha" in the past since it's a law that not everyone knows about, and violations are most prevalent when the roads are deserted, say late at night, and it's easy to pull someone over.

Posted by: vtavgjoe | July 6, 2010 6:11 PM | Report abuse

"someone is pulled over on the right shoulder, and I am about to make a right turn just past them, do I have to move left, and then move back right again?"

The Virginia statute says move over OR slow down, so you need not move left. It's Va. Code 46.2-921.1 and may be found here:

http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?000+cod+46.2-921.1

It does not say to what speed you must slow. The first subsection reads as follows:

"A. The driver of any motor vehicle, upon approaching a stationary vehicle that is displaying a flashing, blinking, or alternating blue, red, or amber light or lights as provided in § 46.2-1022, 46.2-1023, or 46.2-1024 or subdivision A 1 or A 2 of § 46.2-1025 shall (i) on a highway having at least four lanes, at least two of which are intended for traffic proceeding as the approaching vehicle, proceed with caution and, if reasonable, with due regard for safety and traffic conditions, yield the right-of-way by making a lane change into a lane not adjacent to the stationary vehicle or (ii) if changing lanes would be unreasonable or unsafe, proceed with due caution and maintain a safe speed for highway conditions."

It's the "if reasonable" that would most likely apply in the case of making an immediate right turn after passing the stopped emergency vehicle, especially if there is other traffic on the road that might make it hard to move back over.

Posted by: 1995hoo | July 7, 2010 8:21 AM | Report abuse

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