Try digitalPLUS for 10 days for only $0.99

Editorial

News Opinion Editorial

A universal hazard [Editorial]

Motorists on Maryland roads approaching a police or emergency vehicle stopped on the shoulder with lights flashing are required by law to move over to the next lane or slow down to avoid the possibility of hitting anyone standing nearby. It's a sensible measure designed to protect law-enforcement and emergency personnel from becoming victims of the very traffic problems they are attempting to solve.

But if you happen to be a tow truck operator assisting a disabled vehicle under similar circumstances, well, that's another story: You can put up orange cones and flash your lights all you want but other drivers are under no obligation to slow down, let alone change lanes to avoid you. They can whip past at 65 mph inches from where you're standing, and it's all perfectly legal.

That's why this year the Maryland General Assembly is considering an expansion of the state's "move over law" to include tow trucks in addition to police, fire and EMS vehicles. Violators would be subject to a citation and fines of up to $500. The number of close calls — and at least one fatality — in such situations since the original law was passed in 2010 has been a matter of concern for public safety officials and tow truck companies ever since, and we hope lawmakers will approve this common-sense measure before anyone else is injured or killed.

But why stop with tow truck operators when so many others are just as much at risk when an accident or vehicle malfunction forces them to stop roadside? Motorists who get a flat that requires them to pull over often find themselves in the same precarious situation as the tow truck driver who comes to their rescue. And unlike the tow truck operator, the risk for ordinary motorists is compounded if there are passengers in their vehicles, especially if they include children.

The same is true for state highway maintenance employees and contract workers whose jobs require them to labor in close proximity to high-speed traffic. Over the years there have been any number of incidents in which such workers have been seriously injured or killed by drivers who didn't see them until it was too late or who ignored the flashing yellow lights on their vehicles. Surely their lives are just as valuable and as worthy of protection as those of police, fire and emergency workers and tow truck drivers.

You'd think Maryland lawmakers would have attended to such anomalies long ago when the original legislation was approved. But politics being what it is, that's often not the way things happen in Annapolis, where lawmakers usually prefer to do as little tinkering as possible rather than risk a backlash from those opposed to doing anything at all.

Indeed, this year's modest effort to expand the "move over" law to include tow truck drivers originally contained protections for ordinary motorists, service workers and contract employees as well. But the latter ultimately were stripped from the final proposal after some lawmakers complained the changes represented unnecessary government overreaching.

If you think it's unreasonable to require drivers to change lanes or slow down when they encounter a station wagon full of kids broken down on the side of the road or workers repairing a pothole next to the median strip, you probably are also one of those people who thinks there shouldn't be speed limits in school zones or pedestrian crosswalks mandating drivers to stop even if no traffic light is present. But most people slow down in school zones and give pedestrians the right of way not just because the law says they must but because it's an obvious safety measure and common courtesy they'd want themselves if the situation were reversed.

The same principle should apply to disabled vehicles and highway workers. Anyone can find themselves a potential victim of distracted or reckless drivers who fail to appreciate the danger they pose to themselves and others when they rocket past stranded vehicles and maintenance crews by hair-thin margins of safety. It's long past time lawmakers recognize such situations as a universal hazard for drivers and passengers and approve legislation that protects everyone who travels by road.

To respond to this editorial, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • General Assembly considers expanding state's 'move-over' law

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

    Motorists must avoid emergency vehicles stopped by the roadside; new legislation would protect tow truck operators

  • Hogan's softer road

    Hogan's softer road

    Last week, Gov. Larry Hogan essentially wrapped up the 2015 legislative calendar by deciding the fate of some of the more controversial bills passed by the General Assembly earlier this year. While one can debate the merits of some of his individual choices — whether to veto, sign or embrace the...

  • Sex among the ruins

    Sex among the ruins

    Netflix must know something nobody else does because they created a show about old people having sex.

  • Where it was made matters

    Where it was made matters

    She walked slowly up the aisle, picking up every single blender on the shelf in Sears. Holiday music played joyfully in the background. "It's all made in China," she said, gently returning the box to the shelf. Disappointment flashed across her face as she slowly moved on to the next box.

  • Traffic blocking protesters [Poll]

    Traffic blocking protesters [Poll]

    Should police have arrested the protesters who blocked traffic for more than an hour on Interstate 395 in Baltimore Tuesday morning?

  • Baltimore is not Cleveland

    Baltimore is not Cleveland

    If there was one incident that was the catalyst for the U.S. Justice Department's investigation of Cleveland police's practices and the consent decree officials announced there, it was a massive display of police force. A car backfired while driving past a police station, and officers, thinking...

  • A misguided protest

    A misguided protest

    Commuters driving into Baltimore from the south today were understandably chagrined to find themselves stuck in unusually heavy traffic that extended from the beltway all the way into downtown. The cause? A demonstration led by the Rev. Jamal Bryant that blocked the city's major arteries in protest...

  • Silencing the victim

    Silencing the victim

    Here is the actual state of affairs when it comes to police-community relations in Baltimore: The death of Freddie Gray brought to the surface years of pent-up frustrations by many city residents about how they are treated by Baltimore police officers, resulting in weeks of protests and two nights...

Comments
Loading

84°