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Will the Police Really Stop me for Not Moving Over?

The Virginia State Police have really stepped up measures to prevent officer injuries and fatalities. In the last 15 years, there have been more than 213 police officers killed while performing routine traffic stops. This, according to Move Over America, is the reason for a national movement to require drivers to respect the officers’ safety by simply slowing down and moving over, where safe to do so.

How many states have “move over” laws?

Although 71 percent of Americans polled had never heard of “move over” laws, the sole state to remain free of such legislation is the District of Columbia.

What is the law in Virginia?

Under Section 46.2-921.1 of the Virginia Code, drivers must “yield right-of-way or reduce speed when approaching stationary emergency vehicles on highways.”  This seems simple enough, but the law goes on to state that this applies to any vehicle displaying a “flashing, blinking, or alternating blue, red, or amber light or lights.” Further definitions can be found in the Code. But a driver’s actions may vary depending on the type and condition of roadway involved. For instance:

Typical Interstate Scenario

If you are driving on a highway with at least four lanes, at least two of which are used for the same direction of travel as you and the emergency vehicle, then you must move over into the other lane that is not adjacent to the emergency vehicle. If it is unsafe to do so, you are required to use caution and reduce speed as necessary depending on highway conditions.

Therefore, the law makes allowance for reasonable differences in conditions. Indeed, a driver traveling 45 miles per hour in heavy snowfall may not be able to safely change lanes without spinning out or causing an accident, but it may be more reasonable to slow down to a speed at which he can more easily control the vehicle as he passes by. This also reduces the likelihood of serious injury or property damage in the event of a collision.

What are the penalties for failing to move over or slow down?

Violations can be severe when there are injuries. However, in general, a violation of any part of the law is considered a traffic violation, no different than a typical speeding ticket. But things get worse with subsequent offenses. Here is a basic outline:

  • First offense: Traffic infraction with fines
  • Second offense: Class 1 misdemeanor with steep fines and possible jail time

Regardless of whether it is your first or fifteenth offense, if you cause damages of any kind due to your failure to yield, the following can and typically will be imposed in addition to any other fines and penalties already assessed:

  • Property damage: Suspended license for one year.
  • Injury or death: Suspended license for two years.

This law does not apply to construction zones, because of the random and varied nature of such roadways. Other laws, however, do protect construction crews from drivers who fail to adhere to construction and speed reduction signs.

What else happens if I hurt or kill someone by failing to obey the move-over law?

Just because this specific law only provides for loss of your driving privileges does not mean the police are without other recourse. Depending on the nature and circumstances of the infraction, you may also face charges of reckless driving, criminal negligence or vehicular manslaughter. If you have been ticketed for failing to yield the right-of-way to an emergency vehicle in Leesburg, Fairfax or the northern Virginia area, you may still be able to protect your right to drive, and if you have caused serious property damage or harmed someone, you need a skilled defense team on your side.  Contact the dedicated defense attorneys at Simms Showers, LLP in Leesburg to discuss your case today.

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