Most of us know that when a police cruiser, fire truck, or ambulance comes barreling down the street, engines blaring and lights flashing, it’s imperative to yield the right-of-way and immediately parallel position themselves as close as possible to the right curb – because lives could be on the line. But our Atlanta car accident attorneys stress that it’s also important to make way for these vehicles when they’re operators are on active duty and stopped along the highway.
Georgia’s Move Over Law is about keeping essential workers and other road users safe. Passed in 2003 and codified in O.C.G.A. § 40-6-16, the Move Over Law holds that motorists traveling in the lane adjacent to the shoulder must move over a lane when operators of emergency and utility vehicles acting in their official capacity are stationary on the side of the highway.
As our Atlanta auto accident attorneys can explain, the law pertains to the following vehicles:
- All first responders (police, fire, emergency medical services).
- Utility vehicles.
- Department of Transportation vehicles.
- Tow trucks.
- Highway Emergency Responder Operators (HERO) Units.
- Wreckers tending to an accident.
Lawmakers in Georgia, as in 30 other states, passed a Move Over Law in the wake of an ever-growing number of police officers, emergency medical technicians, utility employees, and transportation workers killed by passing motorists during routine construction projects, crash responses, and traffic stops.
The law aims to raise awareness and hopefully deter dangerous driving around emergency vehicles. Unfortunately, as Georgia personal injury lawyers know, it hasn’t eliminated the problem entirely.
Late last year, an officer in DeKalb County was injured when struck by a passing motorist as he sat in his vehicle, lights flashing, on the highway shoulder completing paperwork after a traffic stop. The officer later told local news reporters that the driver, who was distracted, failed to obey the Move Over Law, pushed him across four lanes of traffic, and then overturned. The officer suffered a concussion, a bulged disc in his spine, and facial injuries requiring stitches. The cruiser was totaled. Forced to take six weeks off work, his treatment and recovery continues.
“I’m lucky to be alive here,” he said.
What Can I Do if I Can’t Safely Pull Over?
The law requires that drivers approaching emergency vehicles with flashing lights (red, yellow, white, amber or blue) do so “with due caution” and move over to the next lane as soon as possible. But what if you can’t?
The law explains that when a lane change is not possible because it’s not allowed, barred by law, or simply isn’t safe, drivers are expected to slow down to “a reasonable and proper speed for existing road and traffic conditions” (one that is below the posted speed limit) – and be prepared to stop if necessary.
If you can move over safely to another lane, that should always be the first course of action. If you can’t do this, you don’t necessarily need to slow down as long as you can complete the maneuver safely.
Compensation for Victims of Move Over Law Violations
We all know that some of these jobs are inherently dangerous for many reasons. But federal data shows that traffic crashes kill more police officers in the line of duty than anything else – even shootings. Emergency vehicles of all types, lights brightly flashing, have been struck time and time again while parked on the edge of state highways.
The Governor’s Highway Safety Office in Georgia notes that while a Move Over Law violation can result in a maximum fine of $500, the true cost of violating this statute is far more significant. One could face additional criminal charges for offenses like reckless driving. Those charges will be even more serious if the emergency worker is struck and seriously injured or killed.
Victims can also pursue civil liability cases against negligent drivers whose careless actions result in severe or lasting harm to someone else. In these cases, plaintiffs may be able to pursue both workers’ compensation benefits from their employer as well as additional damages from the errant driver for things like pain and suffering, loss of life enjoyment, loss of consortium, and even punitive damages under O.C.G.A. § 51-12-5.1.
In cases where the negligent driver was also on-the-job at the time of the crash, employers can be held vicariously liable, thanks to the legal doctrine of respondeat superior. This would be something for plaintiffs to explore especially when commercial drivers are involved. It may also be worth examining in collisions involving rideshare drivers for companies like Uber or Lyft, both of which carry liability insurance policies that may cover up to $1 million in damages despite their refusal to classify drivers as “employees.”
Those who violate Georgia’s Move Over Law can be presumed negligent per se if they cause a crash. This doctrine is a form of strict liability, and it can make it much easier for the injured person to win their case.
It is incumbent on all road users to apprise themselves of the Georgia Move Over Law and use reasonable care at all times behind the wheel. Anyone injured in a case involving a violation of the Move Over Law in Georgia should speak to an experienced Atlanta injury trial lawyer as soon as possible.
The foregoing answers are not legal advice and are merely a general overview. You are advised to consult a lawyer to address your specific situation. For more information or to inquire about a free consultation, contact Stephen D. Apolinsky, an experienced Atlanta injury attorney, at Apolinsky & Associates at (404) 377-9191 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.