Motorists are still not adhering to the 2009 “Move Over Law” to protect emergency personnel at work on the roadside and now the state has unrolled a campaign to reinforce the law.
Local emergency personnel, however, say the state has far to go to remind drivers and familiarize visitors who are not aware of the law.
Long Beach Township Police Lt. Paul Vereb, who heads the department’s Traffic Safety Unit, said there have been a lot of close calls for police officers pulling vehicles over during the summer season in heavy traffic.
“In the past, doors have been knocked off cars by other vehicles and officers have been brushed by vehicles. No one has been seriously hurt, but it’s been close,” Vereb said.
These dangers can be attributed to a driver’s lack of knowledge, people not paying attention and panic, Vereb said.
Officers in Long Beach Township have been pulling vehicles over on side streets and also approaching drivers on the passenger side of cars to avoid other drivers on the road.
“People see the lights ahead, they can’t get over and they don’t know what to do. We’re in the busiest time of year and there is not a lot of room out there,” Vereb said.
Vereb said because of the influx of visitors to the New Jersey shore he believes the campaign should be a national one and the law should be enacted across the country. Long Beach Island can see its population swell to 250,000 during the summer months.
According to the state Division of Highway Traffic Safety the law requires drivers who are approaching stationary emergency vehicles, including tow trucks and other highway safety vehicles displaying red, blue and/or amber flashing lights, must move over one lane or, if not safe to move over, then slow down below the posted speed limit.
The law states that failure to move over or slow down is punishable by a fine of $100 to $500. A driver would not receive points on their driver’s license for the offense.
The agency is running radio and television advertisements along with the launch of a website, www.moveoverlaw.com, to help educate motorists about the dangers that emergency personnel face on the roads. One of the slogans for the campaign is “Protect those who protect you.”
But emergency workers say that since the law was enacted in 2009, motorists have ignored it, are not familiar with it or panic when they come upon an emergency vehicle in the roadway.
James Vogel, an ambulance driver with the Beach Haven Volunteer First Aid Squad, said when he started driving drivers pulled to the right or left when approaching an emergency vehicle, but now drivers stop with a deer-in-the-headlights look on their face and just sit there.
“I’ve had people shoot me the finger and not move. People are not willing to give up 30 seconds of their travel or vacation time. Time is critical when you have to get someone to the hospital,” Vogel said.
Education can’t hurt, but there is a lot of work to be done, he said.
There is a shortage of ambulance drivers and emergency medical technicians in the area and the rigs need to get back as soon as possible, he said.
“I’ve actually called for police to deal with vehicles who are interfering with the operation of an emergency vehicle. It’s dangerous. A little courtesy would be appreciated,” Vogel said.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website, the agency supports states’ work to enact move over laws. As of 2008, 40 States have instituted “move-over” laws, according to the website.
“The problem in our state is that it’s a transit state and we have so many people visiting from other places where some have the law and some don’t. It would be great if National Highway Traffic Safety got involved. The state has done everything they possibly can,” Vereb said.
Stafford Township Volunteer Fire Department Chief Jack Johnson said he has experienced problems with motorists on Route 72, the Ocean Acres section of the township and the Garden State Parkway when responding to car accidents or fires.
“We had one fire over the winter on Nautilus in Ocean Acres and the traffic wouldn’t move over and a line of cars blocked the fire hydrant. Many of them were rubbernecking and looking at the fire,” Johnson said.
Most recently, Johnson and firefighters responded to an overturned vehicle in a crash on the parkway with entrapped passengers and motorists were not moving to the side of the road for fire trucks to get to the scene.
He said that he thinks the majority of drivers are overcome by a feeling of panic when they approach emergency vehicles in the roadway and simply don’t know which direction to go.
“We need more education. There are times when I am blowing the sirens and people are just not moving,” he said.
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