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Slow down, move over on the roadways

Article Published 06/03/2014

By the Layton Police Department
Every year, police officers are injured or killed by passing cars during otherwise routine traffic stops. 
According to a 2013 report by the Utah Safety Council, twelve officers were hit in 2012, and thirteen more had been hit in early 2013.  Since 1999, more than 150 officers have been killed during traffic stops nationwide.
In 2002, Utah joined several other states in enacting a “slow down, move over” law.  Today, 49 states have such laws.  The Utah law requires drivers approaching a stationary emergency vehicle with its lights flashing to (1) slow down, and (2) whenever traffic allows, change lanes to be at least one lane away from the emergency vehicle.  
The law is not limited just to freeways; drivers are required to slow down and move over for emergency vehicles on every public road in the state.
Although the bulk of publicity surrounding these kinds of laws has focused on police officer safety, the law applies to any stationary emergency vehicle with its lights flashing.  This includes, fire trucks, ambulances, police cars, etc. 
The law is intended to protect police officers, firefighters, paramedics, other emergency personnel, and anyone else who may be out of their vehicle during an emergency.
How much do I need to slow down?
Utah’s “slow down, move over” law doesn’t specify how much you are required to slow down.  However, a good rule of thumb is to slow down to half of the speed limit or even slower, especially if you are unable to change lanes away from the emergency vehicle. 
It may be appropriate to slow down even more on the freeway, where half of the speed limit is still over 30 miles per hour.  By slowing down significantly, you give yourself more time to react to anything that may happen in front of you.  
You also give yourself more time to find a gap in which to safely change lanes and provide more space for emergency personnel.
Do I still need to change lanes even if I can see that the officer is in his car or on the sidewalk?
Yes, just the same as you need to stop for a red light even if there is no traffic coming the other direction.  There are reasons for the absolute rule. 
For example, the officer may need to get out of his car at any time, or there may be other drivers out of their vehicles already.  In addition, there’s always the chance that there’s someone or something you didn’t see.  It doesn’t matter where anyone actually is as you approach.  Your cue to move over is the flashing emergency lights.
What if there’s a car next to me preventing me from moving over?
The law doesn’t expect you to hit another car to avoid the risk of hitting an officer.  However, you are still required to slow down, and slowing down will often give you a window to change lanes.  As soon as you see the lights flashing, start looking for a chance to move over.
In addition, even if you can’t change lanes, you need to provide as much space as possible by moving over to the left part of your lane.  This is especially true on roads with only one lane in each direction.
What happens if I get a ticket for it?
Two things happen.  First, as with any traffic citation, there’s a fine.  The fine may vary somewhat depending on the jurisdiction, the severity of the violation, and your driving history, but it will typically cost more than a normal speeding ticket. 
Second, Utah law now requires that anyone convicted of violating the “slow down, move over” law must attend a live four-hour defensive driving course.  If you fail to complete the defensive driving course, your driver’s license will be suspended.
Police officers are looking out for you.  Slowing down and moving over is a simple way you can help look out for them.