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Shapiro & Appleton

Move-Over Law is a Trap for Drivers

Posted on Jul 12, 2009

The Virginia Lawyers Weekly recently wrote an article about the move-over law.  Virginia's move-over law instructs drivers to move over or reduce speed for stopped emergency vehicles.  The law itself does not say anything about slowing down.  Instead the Virginia Code § 46.2-921.1 requires that drivers change lanes if possible unless it would be "unreasonable or unsafe".  In such case, the motorist must proceed with due caution and maintain a safe speed for highway conditions.  A violation of this statute carries a possible jail sentence.  Recently, a Fairfax County man was ticketed in a state police operation specifically targeting violators of the move-over law. 

According to the man's attorney, his client was driving on the right lane of
Interstate 95 on a Sunday morning when he spotted a trooper on the shoulder with lights flashing.  The driver was concerned about traffic in the left lane and did not move over.  Instead, he slowed down and passed the stopped police car with caution.  The man was stopped and charged with violation of the move-over law. 

This law carries a possible 12-month jail sentence and $2,500.00 fine.  The man was allowed to take a driver's safety class as to avoid a conviction.  Nevertheless, his attorney said that case signals that slowing down is not enough to avoid a ticket despite the language on the highway signs around the state.  According to the man's attorney, the trooper did not disagree that the sign was wrong. 
The Virginia State Police’s spokesman said the signs posted by VDOT put a link there are advisories to the motoring public warning drivers that there is such a law in the commonwealth.


The Virginia State Police's written response notes that the headline of the code section reads drivers to yield right-of-way or reduce speed when approaching stationary emergency vehicles on highways.  The state code however states that headlines of code sections are mere catch words and do not become part of the statute.


The attorney also acknowledges that the move-over law addresses a real problem for law enforcement and others using emergency vehicles.  Anyone standing beside a broken down car on a 55-mile-an-hour highway knows the danger police must confront to enforce traffic laws on the highways.  We all know most cars are doing at least 70 and some are paying attention while most are distracted.  According to a March 29 Virginia State Police news release, 18 law enforcement personnel were struck and killed nation wide in 2008 while standing outside of their vehicles.  Virginia is one of 40 states with a move-over law.


If you are ever on the interstate and notice that there are emergency personnel stopped or responding to a scene, do your best to move over with caution to avoid any other accidents.  That is the intent of this law however it does seem that the law is poorly written and requires some clarification.


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