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General Assembly considers expanding state's 'move-over' law

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After a tow truck operator from Green's Garage stopped on the shoulder of Interstate 795 in Reisterstown in January to help a motorist, she ended up needing a wrecker herself.

A distracted driver veered off the road and hit her truck, causing nearly $10,000 in damage, according to Larry Green, owner of the Hampstead towing business and president of the Towing & Recovery Professionals of Maryland. The truck operator was not injured, Green said, but she and others face constant danger.

"There's a lot of close calls," Green said.

Green supports legislation before the General Assembly that would require motorists to move over when possible when driving past tow trucks stopped on the sides of roads with their lights on. The measure would expand Maryland's current "move-over law" — passed in 2010 — which requires drivers to move away for emergency responders. Violators would face fines of up to $500.

All states have some form of move-over law. Maryland, however, is one of only four that don't include tow trucks in the move-over requirement, according to AAA. In 2011, a tow truck operator was struck and killed on the side of a road in Anne Arundel County.

"Tow truck drivers, unfortunately, across the country, face the same types of dangers as emergency responders," said Ragina Cooper-Averella, a spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

AAA believes enacting the law would also help protect motorists who are pulled over.

But Cooper-Averella and others say there needs to be more public awareness of the existing law.

"A lot of people, they have no idea about this," Maryland State Police Trooper Thomas Thelen said as he patrolled I-97 in the Glen Burnie area earlier this week.

Thelen's co-worker, Trooper Jacqueline Kline, had pulled over to assist a fellow trooper in a traffic stop on Route 100 in Pasadena last fall when she was hit by a passing motorist. She suffer a traumatic brain injury and spent more than a month in the hospital.

Kline, who returned to work a month ago, told reporters last week she hoped her case would remind motorists to move over for all vehicles that are stopped.

"You should always give them that courtesy," she said. "Give them their space."

Police issued more than 2,400 citations to violators last year, according to state legislative analysts.

When motorists are unable to switch lanes to accommodate emergency vehicles, they are required to "slow to a reasonable and prudent speed." If the new legislation is enacted, the same requirement would apply to tow trucks.

"There's times you can't get over if you wanted to," Thelen said. "We'll say, 'Well, you could at least slow down.'"

Gov. Martin O'Malley supports the new legislation.

"Including tow trucks in our 'move over' requirement will not only enhance safety for private tow-truck operators, but state employees and highway contractors as well," spokeswoman Nina Smith said.

The House and Senate have passed separate bills to require drivers to avoid tow trucks. The Senate version is set for a House hearing on Tuesday.

Republican State Sen. Nancy Jacobs, who sponsored the Senate measure with Republican Sen. Bryan Simonaire, became interested in the issue after hearing from Jenna Schreiber.

Schreiber's husband, James, a father of two, was struck and killed in 2011 while assisting the driver of a disabled truck in Pasadena.

When lawmakers passed the current move-over law in 2010, Jacobs said, some believed it would be too complicated to include tow truck operators.

"I think they wanted to take it slowly," said Jacobs, who represents Harford and Cecil counties.

State agencies have tried to remind motorists of the requirement, officials said. The Motor Vehicle Administration, for instance, publicized the law on its website and on the monitors at MVA service centers, spokesman Buel Young said.

But Thelen estimated eight out of 10 drivers he stops for failing to obey the law have never heard of it.

On a recent morning, he stopped a 57-year-old motorist on the interstate near Glen Burnie.

"He thought it was a courtesy thing," Thelen said. "He didn't know it was a law."

As Thelen stood on the shoulder of the interstate to hand the man a warning through the window of his white Acura, more cars and trucks rumbled by in the lane right next to him.

alisonk@baltsun.com

twitter.com/alikne

Move Over

Current Maryland law requires motorists to move over to the next lane when they approach an emergency vehicle stopped on a roadside with its lights on, or to slow down if they are unable to move over. Legislation before the General Assembly would impose the same requirements on drivers when they pass tow trucks.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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