Debate Emerges Over Whether Georgia’s “Move Over” Law Is Broken
Our Atlanta auto accident lawyers at Montlick and Associates have written before about the importance of Georgia's "move over" law. The purpose of the law is to protect those providing emergency services and otherwise performing work on the side of Georgia roadways. The law requires motorist to move over when emergency personnel or DOT personnel working adjacent to the roadway have their lights flashing. If the circumstances make it unsafe to move to an adjacent lane, then drivers are supposed to reduce their speed. However, the law, which is designed to protect police, firemen, EMTs, DOT workers, tow truck drivers and other emergency responders, has recently come under attack by skeptics who claim the law is not being used for the purpose intended.
A recent WSBTV news report interviewed critics of the law that claim its primary function is to raise millions of dollars for local governments. Channel 2 investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer looked into claims that the law was not being enforced properly after multiple viewers called to complain about tickets issued under the law. These stories included the following examples that allegedly demonstrate the law is being enforced unfairly:
• A driver claims she slowed down to such a low rate of speed on Ronald Reagan Parkway that the officer was able to step out into the roadway and get her to stop her vehicle by holding up his hands.
• Another motorist claimed he could not move over without colliding with a big-rig, so he slowed down. The officer ticketed him for "not slowing down enough."
• A driver successfully fought his ticket claiming he moved over but had moved back into his original lane after passing the officer. He successfully argued the officer did not see the lane changes because the officer's back was to traffic.
The argument that public entities hard pressed to increase revenue are encouraging enforcement of the law based on financial rather than safety considerations is based on the law's enforcement history. Law enforcement officers have issued 27,000 tickets under the law since it became effective ten years ago. Twenty percent of those tickets have been issued in Gwinnett County, but only four motorists successfully fought their tickets in Gwinnett County during 2013.
One of those drivers who successfully fought his ticket explained that the law is written so vaguely that any driver can be considered in violation. On busy roadways, motorists will frequently find that it is not safe to move to another lane, so they will slow down as required. However, the law imposes no standard for determining how much drivers should reduce their speed. By contrast, the move over law in Florida requires drivers to reduce their speed to twenty miles per hour under the speed limit.
State Sen. Jeff Mullis, R Chickamauga, who was one of the original sponsors of the law, has weighed in on the debate and added legitimacy to the claim the law is being misused. Mullis told Channel 2 that he planned to revisit the law and consider making the language less ambiguous. He also expressed an opinion that government entities are using the law to raise money. Mullis disapproves of co-opting the public safety law for revenue purposes.
According to the news report, Gwinnett County frequently sets up operations to "educate" drivers about the move over law. Mullis contends that efforts like these should result in motorists receiving a warning rather than a ticket. When Cpl. Jake Smith of the Gwinnett Police Department was asked if the law was generating a lot of revenue, he responded, "It could be argued. But I would make the argument that a real citation carries a lot more weight than a warning."
Against the background of this debate, a recent crash that caused injury to a police officer serves as a reminder of the danger upon which Georgia's move over law is based. The officer's vehicle was located in the emergency lane after responding to a prior car accident. As he sat in his vehicle, he was rear-ended by another driver who crossed into the emergency lane. The officer was taken to the hospital for treatment of his injuries.
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While it is unclear whether there will be changes to the law, drivers need to be aware of the vulnerability of emergency responders who are located on the side of the road. We encourage all drivers to comply with the move over law despite the controversy about how slow is slow enough. If you or someone close to you has been injured in a car accident, contact our experienced car accident attorneys for a free consultation to learn how we can help. Montlick and Associates has been representing those who suffer serious injuries throughout all of Georgia and the Southeast for over thirty years, including but not limited to Albany, Athens, Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Gainesville, Macon, Marietta, Rome, Roswell, Savannah, Smyrna, Valdosta, Warner Robins and all smaller cities and rural areas in the state. No matter where you are located our attorneys are just a phone call away, and we will even come to you. Call us 24 hours a day/7 days a week for your Free Consultation at 1-800-LAW-NEED (1-800-529-6333). You can also visit us online at www.montlick.com and use our Free Case Evaluation Form or 24-hour Live Online Chat.