'Move Over' law will be focus of increased patrol effort

If you see flashing lights on the shoulder of the freeway this week — or coming up behind in the rearview mirror — you better move over and slow down.

Police will be out in force along the Interstate 5 corridor during the spring break period of Monday through Friday. And a big focus of the stepped-up patrols will be to enforce Oregon's "Move Over" law, which requires motorists to give a wide berth to police and emergency service vehicles, as well as those of highway workers and tow truck operators.

Motorists are required to "maintain a safe distance" when driving up behind or next to those vehicles when their emergency lights are on.

"The goal here is to educate motorists in the law and keep law enforcement officials safe on the roads," OSP Trooper Bill Matson said Saturday. "It can be dangerous to pull over a car along the interstate and have cars speeding by at more than 70 mph, so we are trying to put a stop to that. It will keep drivers and police safe."

Matson speaks from experience on the need for drivers to at least attempt to slow down and change lanes when passing a stopped police car.

"I had my patrol car hit while I was investigating a crash," Matson said. "A driver struck the rear of my patrol car, causing a good bit of damage."

The law requires motorists to change lanes when possible. When not required to change lanes, for instance on a two-lane road or if it is unsafe to do so, drivers must slow down to at least 5 mph below the posted speed limit.

Violation of the "Move Over" law is a class B traffic violation with a listed traffic citation bail amount of $287. Forty-seven states have similar laws. More than 150 law enforcement officers have been killed since 1999 while stopped along roads.

The around-the-clock interagency effort next week will beef up patrols along more than 120 miles of I-5, from the California border to the Roseburg area.

Oregon State Police troopers at the Central Point office helped organize the multi-agency project. Law enforcement agencies participating are OSP offices at Central Point, Grants Pass and Roseburg, Medford Police Department, Jackson County Sheriff's Office, Josephine County Sheriff's Office, Douglas County Sheriff's Office, Grants Pass Department of Public Safety and Roseburg Police Department.

OSP Senior Trooper Kirk Freeman said the main goal of the effort is to prevent traffic crashes and find those drivers who are posing a danger to other motorists.

"Our hope is that the visible enforcement presence will remind all drivers to travel safe, obeying our traffic laws no matter where they will be going," said Freeman. "We also want motorists to remember they need to be watching for our safety while we work for their safety."

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471, or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.

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