First responders: Move over and slow down on roads for emergency vehicles

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DANE COUNTY, Wis. (WMTV)--- Authorities are reminding motorists to move over for emergency vehicles and give county snow plows adequate room after two incidents happened on Tuesday night.

Elise Schaffer with the Dane County Sheriff’s Office said a deputy was providing coverage for a vehicle that had slid in the ditch on U.S. Highway 151 in the town of Verona just before 7 p.m. when he was rear-ended by another vehicle. The deputy didn’t appear to be injured, but he was evaluated at a local hospital as a precaution. The driver of the at-fault vehicle was cited.

Schaffer said a few minutes later, a Dane County plow driver reported a hit-and-run after a Jeep crashed into the wing of a slow plow on U.S. Highway 151 at County Highway F in the Village of Blue Mounds. The driver of the Jeep was traveling southbound on the U.S. Highway 151. There were no injuries reported.

Drivers must provide a safety zone for stopped law enforcement, emergency and maintenance vehicles. It’s part of Wisconsin’s Move Over Law which was put in place in 2001 to protect first responders.

Schaffer said please help ensure the safety of emergency responders by moving over and slowing down. Failure to do so is one of the reasons may law enforcement officers are being killed in motor vehicles crashes every year.

On Wednesday, Wisconsin State Patrol Trooper Chris Splinter said even with the law, not everyone follows the rules.

"I think a lot of drivers aren't paying attention or they're in too big of a hurry to get to where they're going," he said.

Splinter himself has had many near misses.

"I've had close calls where vehicles have crashed behind me, in front of me or slid past me while I've been outside of the vehicle. I know many other officers have had the same experiences," he said.

These close calls do not just impact law enforcement -- other emergency and maintenance vehicles are also at risk. Simon Birch, a former tow truck driver, said worrying about being hit made it harder to do his job.

"I should be paying attention to taking care of hooking up the truck or the car or whatever's been involved in the incident, not paying attention to the cars that are potentially taking my life because they're not paying attention," said Birch, who drove to trucks for almost 30 years.

Splinter said drivers have to give first responders room to work, which means slowing down and moving over as early as possible, especially when road conditions are bad.

"A lot of times the drivers don’t wait, well, they don’t move over until the last second and by then, other traffic has already moved over into that lane and now they can’t get in. So then they’re stuck out there and if the roads are slippery and they try to get in and get over and they make a quick movement to make that lane change, now they start to lose control and they spin and unfortunately they strike us," Splinter said.

Birch said it's important to slow down and move over because it's the law, but it also keeps everyone safe on the roads.

"Realize that we’re out there working, inches from where you’re traveling at 75 miles an hour," he said. "Give us room to do our job, give us room to work. We want to go home tonight too."

A citation for not moving over could cost almost $300, and if a driver crashes or hits a first responder, those penalties are even higher.