What you need to know about South Carolina’s Move Over Law
If you live and drive in South Carolina, you might have already broken a law you never knew existed. The “Move Over” Law, first signed into South Carolina law in 1996, is intended to help protect emergency responders from accidents on the road, but many South Carolinians have either not heard of it or are unclear about what it means.
What is the Move Over Law?
The Move Over Law was created under the South Carolina Code §56-5-1538, which states that all drivers must yield the right of way for emergency vehicles. The law was enacted to keep emergency responders safe. Before it was in place, sadly, some emergency responders were struck by vehicles and even lost their lives while assisting people in emergencies.
All drivers must pull over or slow down to allow emergency personnel to get to their destination to administer help to those who need it. Emergency personnel includes EMS workers, police officers and firefighters. Emergency vehicles can be distinguished by their blue, red and white flashing lights and sirens.
A closer look at the Move Over Law
South Carolina was the first state in the country to enact the Move Over Law. It was passed after paramedic James Garcia was hit by a car while tending to an injured patient on a 2-lane highway in 1994. Garcia survived, recovered from his injuries and became a passionate advocate for passing the law.
Across the U.S., every state now has some version of the Move Over Law that requires drivers to either move over a lane or reduce their speed by at least 5 miles per hour if another lane is not available when approaching tow trucks or emergency vehicles.
Yet many police officers and other roadside workers say this doesn’t always happen—possibly because drivers simply don’t know the Move Over Law exists. In fact, according to a national poll conducted by Mason Dixon Polling and Research and sponsored by the National Safety Commission, 71 percent of Americans have never heard of the Move Over Law.
Despite South Carolina’s Move Over Law being updated in 2002, it doesn’t seem to be as effective as lawmakers and safety advocates had once hoped.
This may be partly because many South Carolina residents unfamiliar with the law are unsure how to respond when they’re approaching tow trucks or emergency vehicles that are stopped on the road—and unfortunately—their failure to slow down or move over can cost roadside workers their lives.
The South Carolina Department of Public Safety (SCDPS) has reported that more than 150 law enforcement officers have been killed since 1999 after being hit by vehicles on major roads and highways. Since 1981, 4 of them included South Carolina Highway Patrol troopers.
In 2016 alone, more than 70 emergency personnel were hit while working on the side of the road.
What are the penalties for breaking the Move Over Law?
Penalties are one way to get drivers’ attention. Drivers who violate the Move Over Law in South Carolina potentially face a misdemeanor charge and fines between $300 and $500.
Although these penalties may seem fairly minor, a person can face much more serious charges if an emergency worker is injured or killed in an accident due to negligence or recklessness.
However, even with misdemeanor charges, you can suffer additional consequences such as dramatically higher auto insurance premiums. This could also result in insurance companies not wanting to insure you at all.
While such consequences would seem to be a reasonable deterrent, logistics often make it difficult for officers to enforce the law.
Officers who are responding to a wreck or have a car already pulled over cannot just leave the scene to issue a citation to another driver speeding by. Since 2013, less than 100 citations have been issued in South Carolina’s most heavily-populated county, Greenville County. That amounts to around 1 citation every 3 weeks.
Distracted drivers and the Move Over Law
Once drivers know and understand the Move Over Law, they are more likely to comply. But drivers who are looking at their phone, the radio or the person in the back seat often don’t have the chance to move over until it’s too late. Roadside workers count on passing drivers to pay attention, slow down and avoid them.
Yet, with the advent of mobile phones, distracted driving has become 1 of the leading causes of serious and fatal car accidents. This dangerous behavior accounts for one-quarter of all car accident fatalities in the U.S. every year. Tragically, workers who assist others on the side of the road are often the most vulnerable victims.
When looking for ways to combat the injuries and deaths of roadside workers, safety experts believe that a comprehensive effort involving public awareness, enforcement of the Move Over Law and driver education may be the answer.
Columbia car accident lawyers at Chappell, Chappell and Newman fight for victims of roadside car accidents
A serious car accident can be traumatic. Not only do victims have to endure physical pain, but they also face medical expenses and lost work days as a result of their injuries. Fortunately, help is available. At the law firm Chappell, Chappell and Newman, we fight tirelessly for our clients’ rights to justice and financial recovery.