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A spirit that is not afraid

Driving laws aim to protect first responders, reduce congestion

<p>Auburn Police Division perform a traffic stop at Auburn University's campus.</p>

Auburn Police Division perform a traffic stop at Auburn University's campus.

Alabama passed a road law earlier this year that intends to increase highway safety through the penalization of drivers who slowly cruise in the left lane and drivers who don't move over for emergency vehicles.

The Move Over Act is an existing law requiring motorists to move over a lane for stopped emergency vehicles. If not possible, drivers must slow down 15 miles-per-hour below the speed limit while passing. The revision to the law increases penalty costs and adds to the list of vehicles that drivers should move over for while on the road.

“Initially, when it was passed, it was mainly geared towards keeping first responders safe on the sides of roads,” said Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Corporal Jess Thornton. “The Move Over law now includes first responders, utility workers, wrecker service drivers; it includes pretty much anyone … doing work out there on the highway.”

The fines increased from $25 to $100 for a first violation, from $50 to $150 for a second violation and from $100 to $200 for every subsequent violation. This was done to raise awareness and caution drivers of the potential danger they may cause, he said.

“Not only is it a law, it’s common courtesy encountering first responders, maintenance workers or wrecker drivers on the side of the road,” Thornton said. “Over the years, there have been some tragedies … a wrecker driver in Montgomery was killed not too long ago. He was performing his duties when he was hit and killed. We have had first responders that have been hit.”

Drivers on the highway are the biggest danger to a first responder, according to Thornton, because vehicles are driving upwards of 70 miles per hour within feet of first responders performing their duties.

 “We’re much more likely to be killed because of some type of traffic crash than being shot by somebody,” Thornton said. “People get tunnel vision while they’re driving … there’s a lot more distractions in the vehicle than there have been over the years.”

The newly enacted Road Rage law tickets drivers who sit in the left lane without passing other motorists. This action, though not dangerous on its own, can cause a buildup of traffic and unsafe passing in the right lane.

Drivers who stay in the left lane for more than 1.5 miles without passing other motorists will be ticketed. The time it takes to drive this distance on the interstate is slightly over a minute.

“It literally takes seconds for traffic to back up, and it causes a lot of frustration … it also increases the likelihood that there’s going to be a crash because of the amount of congestion,” Thornton said. “If people are traveling on the highways, do not use that left-hand lane as a travel lane. It is meant to be a passing lane to pass slower traffic; when it is safe to do so, you move back over to the right-hand lane.”

In essence, the law intends for passing drivers to only use the left lane for passing slower motorists or stopped vehicles, and to return to the right lane when it is safe to do so in either case.

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