Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Maryland "Move Over" Law Expands

October 1st marked the first day of the new changes to the Maryland “move over” law. The law requires drivers approaching emergency vehicles on the highway to move over, if possible, at least one extra lane from those vehicles. If it is not possible for the driver to move an extra lane over, they are required to slow down at least 10 miles below the posted speed limit.

The law was initially passed in 2010 but only applied to fire and police vehicles. As of October 1st of this year, the law has been expanded to apply to: vehicles of federal, state, or local law enforcement agencies; vehicles of volunteer fire companies, rescue squads, fire departments, the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems, and the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute; State vehicles used in response to oil or hazardous materials spills; State vehicles designated for emergency use by the Commissioner of Correction; ambulances; special vehicles funded or provided by federal, state, or local government and used for emergency or rescue purposes in Maryland; and importantly, tow trucks.

Tow trucks were added after legislators realized tow truck operators were in just as much danger as law enforcement and first responders. From January 2000 until December 31, 2005, approximately 130 tow truck operators in the U.S. were killed from tow-related incidents or accidents. Of those killed, most were involved in service activities on the highway.

The law was put in place to protect the emergency vehicle operators and responders and those violating it will pay the price. A simple violation of the move over law is a primary offense with a fine of $110.00 and one point placed on the driver’s license. If the driver’s violation of the law contributes to a traffic crash, the fine is bumped up to $150.00 and three points, and if the violation contributes to a traffic crash resulting in death or serious injury, the fine is $750.00 and three points.  Police officers are not taking ignorance of the law as an excuse. The Maryland Transportation Authority specifically put more officers on Interstate 95 to send the message to drivers to move over.

In Maryland, violation of a law does not itself constitute conclusive negligence.  However, the violation of a statute, if it causes or contributes to an accident or injuries, will constitute enough evidence of negligence that the burden will then shift to the defendant to justify the violation.  Because tow trucks might not intuitively be placed in the same category as police, firefighters and ambulances, it is important to note and be aware of this change and the impact it may have on auto tort cases.