The Move Over Law

Since I have been writing Cop's Corner, several people have written with questions regarding the "move over law." The move over law was enacted on July 1, 2007, and requires motorist to exercise caution when approaching an area on the freeway where emergency vehicles are present and displaying emergency lights. This law also applies to tow trucks and other stationary vehicles, which are parked along freeways with their emergency lights activated.

Section 21809(a) of the California Vehicle Code contains the language regarding the move over law. The law states that "A person driving a vehicle on a freeway approaching a stationary authorized emergency vehicle that is displaying emergency lights shall approach with due caution." This law also requires the driver of a vehicle approaching a stationary emergency vehicle with its emergency lights activated make a lane change into an available lane not immediately adjacent to the emergency vehicle. For example, if you are traveling northbound on Interstate-5 and see a California Highway Patrol vehicle, with its emergency lights on, parked on the side of the road; you should move into a traffic lane that is NOT next to the patrol car.

However, it may not be safe to make a lane change for several reasons such as: other motorists on the roadway or heavy traffic prevents a motorist from making such a maneuver safely; therefore, this law provides another alternative to changing lanes. Basically, if it's not safe to make a lane change, a driver should slow to a reasonable and prudent speed that is safe for existing weather, road, and vehicular or pedestrian traffic for condition.

Emergency vehicles are described in this particular section as follows: Emergency vehicles, tow trucks, or any other Department of Transportation vehicle with emergency lights activated.

Does this law apply to emergency vehicles that are parked on the opposite side of the freeway? If a qualified emergency vehicle is on the other side of the freeway this law would not apply. In addition, if there is a barrier between the traffic lane a motorist is traveling in and the qualified emergency vehicle, it would not be necessary for the motorist or move over.

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