A tow truck was parked on the side of Route 522 Thursday afternoon with a South Brunswick Police vehicle behind it, yet a large number of motorists failed to slow down or move to the far lane as they passed. Failing to do so is not only dangerous for emergency workers, it's also against the law, as hundreds of motorists found out this week as part of an awareness campaign for the Move Over Law.
The law requires motorists who are approaching stationary emergency vehicles, tow trucks, or other highway safety vehicles displaying red, blue or amber flashing lights to move over one lane if possible, or to slow down below the posted speed limit.
"This is the week we're going to be giving warnings out, after that if we pull someone over for failing to comply with the law we're going to write them a ticket," said South Brunswick Police spokesman Sgt. Jim Ryan. "The whole country has the Move Over Law, yet few motorists seem to do it."
South Brunswick Police set up the tow truck as a decoy and stopped motorists who failed to comply with the law as they drove by. A survey conducted in November indicated 58 percent of motorists failed to slow down or move over when emergency workers are in the roadway. Police have issued over 500 warnings throughout the last week, according to Sgt. Ryan.
New Jersey became the 44th state to pass a Move Over Law when the legislation was signed by Gov. Jon Corzine in 2009. In 30 of the states that passed the law, including New Jersey, tow trucks and highway maintenance vehicles are part of the move over requirement. The fine for violating the law is $120, but the violation doesn't carry any additional points.
"A majority of the people we stopped told us they're grateful for letting them know," said South Brunswick Police Traffic Bureau Supervisor Ken Drost. "About 70 percent of the people say they're unaware that it's even a law. So that's the purpose of this entire campaign."
Drost has personal experience with a motorist disregarding the safety of emergency workers on the roadway. He was struck by a passing vehicle while on the side of the road at an accident scene five years ago.
"A lady was looking off to the side of the road and hit me, did a real nice job on me too," Drost said. "I dislocated my shoulder, broke my back, and bruised a lung. So as emergency workers, we're always looking down the road. It's always something that's in our mind when we're on the side of the road."
Ninety-two law enforcement officers nationwide have lost their lives after being struck by a passing vehicle over the past 10 years, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page. In addition, an average of two emergency responders are struck by passing motorists everyday, according to Responder Safety.com.
"The number of near-misses that occur everyday couldn't even be calculated," said David Matos, Executive Director of the New Jersey Fire and Emergency Medical Services Institute.
One motorist stopped by police on Thursday said she was aware of the law, but couldn't say why she didn't comply with it when asked by Sgt. Ryan.
"This is something that's going to be a focus statewide," said South Brunswick Police Chief Raymond Hayducka. "We're running programs in schools, we have kids making posters, and billboards have gone up. The first step is education. Enforcement begins next week."