State police say they have begun enforcing a 2007 law that requires drivers to move over and slow down for parked emergency vehicles and wreckers along Maine roads, in response to six accidents in which cruisers were hit.
Any driver who is videotaped by police violating the “move over” law will be issued a summons and fined $311. The violation will also go on their driving record.
The renewed enforcement, which began this week on the Maine Turnpike, follows six incidents since December in which drivers hit state police cruisers after the troopers had pulled someone over or stopped to help a motorist.
Each cruiser sustained significant damage, and four troopers suffered injuries. State police said two of those troopers have been unable to return to their patrol duties.
Officers said the accidents happen when drivers are distracted and driving too fast. They said more special details like the one Monday night on the turnpike are needed to protect troopers’ lives. A total of 11 drivers were summoned for violating the law.
“When you see a police officer stopped along the road with their emergency lights on, it’s time to slow down and move over to give them room to work,” Col. Robert Williams, chief of the state police, said in a news release issued Wednesday. “The move over law is designed to reduce the risk to emergency workers stopped along the highway.”
Steve McCausland, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety, said the law was adopted by the Legislature in 2007 to protect people in emergency vehicles and in stopped vehicles with their emergency lights flashing. Every state has adopted some type of move over law, with Hawaii becoming the last in 2012.
Maine State Police said they have not made a concerted effort to enforce the law until now.
Maine’s law requires a driver to slow down to a reasonable speed when approaching a parked emergency vehicle and move into an adjacent lane, if it’s safe to do so.
“I think that now is the time to start enforcing this law,” said Cpl. Lance McCleish of Troop G, which is assigned to patrol the turnpike. “I’ve been watching as my co-workers get hurt and are being forced to miss work.”
McCleish said a big part of the enforcement problem has been manpower. When a trooper is issuing a citation to a driver, it’s unlikely that he or she would break it off to pursue a driver who drove too close to the cruiser.
Members of Troop G, under the command of Lt. Kevin Donovan, decided they had seen enough of their fellow officers getting injured.
In two hours on Monday night, troopers stopped 40 drivers on the turnpike in Portland for an assortment of violations. Eleven drivers were cited for violating the move over law.
The troopers worked as a team. Three videotaped drivers who made no effort to avoid a cruiser that had stopped on the side of the road. Several drivers could easily have shifted lanes, police said.
“One guy challenged me and said isn’t this (fine) a bit harsh,” McCleish said. “I don’t think most people think this is a big deal.”
Donovan said the law is a big deal, and the state police can’t afford to lose more men and women to drivers who are speeding and not paying attention to their surroundings.
“The enforcement is going to continue until the message has been received by the driving public,” he said.
Last week, state police cruisers were hit and damaged in Portland, Brewer and Lincoln. In December, cruisers were hit by drivers in York, Manchester and Sanford.
One of the most severe accidents happened in York in early December. Roads were icy and the speed limit on the turnpike had been lowered to 45 mph.
Trooper William Baker was sitting in his parked cruiser at the scene of an accident when a car driven by a University of New England student began skidding. Her car hit the center guardrail, skidded across three lanes and slammed into the driver’s door of the cruiser.
Baker had to crawl out the passenger side window to get to safety. He has been unable to return to active duty.
Kaitlin St. Peter, 21, of Dracut, Mass., was charged with imprudent speed in the accident.
Last week, Trooper Jessica Shorey was sitting in her cruiser in the breakdown lane of Interstate 295 in Portland, assisting two motorists whose cars had slid off the road, when a driver lost control on icy roads and hit the rear end of her cruiser.
She was treated at Maine Medical Center for neck and back pain, then released. Shorey has since returned to light duty, McCleish said.
Earlier this month, Heming Guo, 49, of Las Vegas was charged with imprudent speed after he drove his tractor trailer into a parked cruiser on Interstate 95 in Lincoln. Trooper recruit Adam Bell, who had stopped to help a motorist whose car had gone off the road, was not injured but his cruiser was demolished.
McCleish, who has patrolled the turnpike for the past five years, said he will push for all state police troops to do special details aimed at catching drivers who violate the move over law.
“In the past we focused on education, not enforcement, but that needs to change,” he said.
Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: