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Monday, Aug. 29, 2016

State law not catching on

Tuesday, November 9, 2004

Missouri State Highway Patrol Trooper Kindel Ward stops a motorist.
POPLAR BLUFF -- A state law that went into effect two years ago still hasn't caught on with many motorists.

For this reason Missouri State Highway Patrol officers across Troop E's 13-county area are stepping up enforcement of the state statute protecting police officers and other emergency responders working alongside the highways.

By law, motorists are required -- when approaching a stopped emergency vehicle with its lights flashing -- to slow down and if possible, move over and allow room for workers to operate safely.

"This (re-emphasis of the law) came about from patrol officers providing input to headquarters that a lot of motorists are still not aware of the statute, and we continue to have officers struck while performing their duties," said Sgt. Larry Plunkett Jr., Troop E public information officer.

The special enforcement period began Monday and will continue through Sunday. Officers are looking for all traffic violations that apply and will be providing a pamphlet with additional information concerning the "slow down, move over" statute.

"Our goal is not to come out and start writing citations, but we've tried to let the public know about the law over the past two years and we have been gracious," Plunkett said. "But at some point, the public needs to take responsibility."

According to the law, which became effective in August 2002, motorists must change lanes away from the emergency vehicle if they are on a multi-lane highway and can do so safely. If drivers can't change lanes safely, or they are on a two-lane highway, they must slow down while maintaining a safe speed so as not to impede other traffic.

"What a lot of motorists don't realize is they're driving through our office space or work space at 50 to 60 miles per hour, and we may be involved in a confrontation or we maybe changing a tire and many times our movements come sudden. And if they're not operating their vehicle with caution, they can hit us," Plunkett said, adding his pants leg has been brushed by vehicles on several occasions.

Last June Sgt. Brad Lively was struck and seriously injured while working traffic on Interstate 55 in Cape Girardeau County. It's just been within the last couple of weeks Lively has just been able to stand up, Plunkett noted. Even with last summer's accident, many motorists still aren't slowing down.

"Our biggest danger, probably more than getting shot, is being run over by motorists," said Plunkett.

Todd Curtis, owner of Todd's Towing Service in Sikeston, said he and his drivers know all too well about the habits of motorists traveling through an emergency scene. In fact one of his drivers was almost run over by a motorist last week, he said.

"It's an every day situation for us," Curtis said. "Every time we go off to pick up a car, the vehicles are still not slowing down or moving over -- and we've got our bright lights on. They're putting our drivers' lives at risk and the customer we're picking up."

With winter weather approaching, it is extremely dangerous for motorists not to take caution of emergency workers, Curtis pointed out.

"We pick up half a dozen cars up everyday off the interstate, and it keeps getting worse and worse," said Curtis about other motorists' driving habits Curtis doesn't think motorists realize the dangers of driving fast and simply aren't paying attention while driving.

James Satterfield, owner of Satterfields Wrecker Service in Sikeston, has his own take on why people speed through the zones: "My theory is all these new cars have cruise control and people don't want to tap the control off and want to keep going."

While most drivers are very good about slowing down, there are still several, for whatever reason, who make little or no effort to slow down when they see emergency efforts, Plunkett said. His recommendation is for motorists to travel 35-40 mph, if not slower, through an emergency/roadside scene.

"We all get in a hurry and someone's life may be riding on the line if you're not paying attention," Plunkett said. "We don't want anyone else to get hurt, and in some cases, even worse than that, is someone never getting to go home."