Motorists Reminded to Move Over for First Responders

Colorado News

STATEWIDE — Everyday emergency responders across Colorado work tirelessly to help save lives at the scene of traffic crashes. But each year too many emergency responders are struck by passing motorists causing serious injury or death. Traffic-related incidents are the leading cause of death for on-duty law enforcement officers, fire, EMS, maintenance workers, and tow/recovery professionals.  Many of these incidents could have been prevented if motorists had followed Colorado’s Move Over Law, which requires drivers to move over a lane and/or slow down when approaching stopped emergency or maintenance vehicles.

In a special proclamation, Governor Jared Polis today proclaimed Nov. 8-14 as Crash Responder Safety Week (#crsw2021). This week recognizes that the public’s health, safety, and well-being are often dependent on the commitment of all first responders, including law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency medical personnel, road crews, and tow operators who conduct valuable and often life-saving operations at the roadside. During the week the Colorado Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration, the Colorado State Patrol, the National Highway Safety Administration, AAA Colorado, and the Colorado State Committee on First Responder Safety will work together to raise awareness about the Move Over Law and the importance of using caution near traffic incidents along Colorado roadways.

“We see it too often,” said Chief Matthew C. Packard of the Colorado State Patrol. “Law enforcement officers and other first responders working in dangerous traffic situations with drivers speeding not thinking about the dangers they pose to us working on the road. When you see a responder or a vehicle on the side of the road, move over. We are out there trying to make your commute safer, so give us space to work.”  

In total, the Colorado State Patrol has lost 11 troopers who were struck by passing motorists. All 50 states have “Slow Down, Move Over” laws but fewer than 30 percent of Americans understand the law, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Traffic incidents are the number one cause of death for police officers and EMS responders nationwide. 

Across the country, 46 emergency responders who were working on the roadway were struck and killed in 2020, including 17 law enforcement officers, 21 tow truck operators, one mobile mechanic, three DOT and safety service patrol operators, and four firefighters and EMS personnel. As of October 18th of this year, 51 deaths of first responders across the country have been reported, already exceeding last year’s death toll with two months still remaining this year, and include a Colorado towing operator struck by a passing motorist on July 29, 2021, on I-25 near Castle Rock.  The towing industry is 15 times deadlier than all other private industries combined, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

CDOT and the Colorado State Patrol work every day to maintain a safe and reliable transportation system for the people of Colorado. When crashes happen law enforcement, fire, EMS and the towing industry work together to clear the roadway and keep the system moving. In an average month, Colorado emergency crews respond to almost 8,000 traffic incidents. 

“Every day, law enforcement, maintenance vehicles and first responders spend countless hours along the side of Colorado’s roadways responding to the scene of a crash,” said Federal Highway Division Administrator John Cater. “That’s why FHWA coordinated Traffic Incident Management (TIM) responder training – to help responders learn a common set of practices, including quick clearance techniques that improve communications and reduce the amount of time needed to remain on scene. FHWA commends Colorado for being a leader in TIM training. While drivers should do their part in watching out for responders, training is also saving lives in Colorado.”

In 2020 Colorado strengthened its Move Over law through the “Move Over for Cody Act” named for Colorado State Patrol Trooper Cody Donahue who was killed in 2016 after being struck by a car during a traffic stop. The updated law stipulates that if a driver is unable to move at least one lane away from the stationary emergency vehicle, the driver must slow down to at least 25 miles per hour on roadways with a speed limit below 45 miles per hour. On roadways with speed limits of 45 miles per hour or more, motorists must slow down to 20 miles per hour less than the posted speed limit. Drivers that fail to slow down or move over commit the crime of careless driving, a class 2 misdemeanor traffic offense that can result in up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $300.

“Every State has a Move Over Law that requires drivers to change lanes and/or slow down when approaching stopped emergency vehicles,” said Gina Espinosa-Salcedo, Regional Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  “As a former first responder myself, we ask for your cooperation and compliance, because the Move Over law can only protect first responders if motorists are aware of them, drivers obey them, and officers enforce them.” 

CDOT and its partners are committed to improving traffic incident management (TIM) so incidents can be detected, responded to, and cleared so that traffic flow may be restored as safely and quickly as possible.  Effective TIM reduces the duration and impacts of traffic incidents and improves the safety of motorists, crash victims, and emergency responders. CDOT and CSP hosted the 5th Annual Colorado TIM Conference on behalf of the Colorado State Committee for First Responder Safety on September 22, 2021. This year’s virtual TIM Conference was an opportunity to share information amongst the CDOT Regions, CSP Districts, and partner first responder agencies and exchange lessons learned/best practices in providing support for this challenging program.  This training will continue with the start of the Colorado Talking TIM Webinars, with the first session scheduled for November 10th in conjunction with Crash Responder Safety Week. These virtual webinars will provide Colorado-specific TIM topics to assist first responder agencies across the state to develop and improve their TIM programs. 

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