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When an emergency vehicle is traveling on the roadway, the other vehicles on the road are legally obligated to stop or yield. A few recent incidents where cars have struck emergency vehicles, however, show that not all drivers are obeying these laws. So, what exactly, are drivers supposed to do? On North Carolina roadways, the “Move Over Law” provides some guidance to drivers.

The Move Over Law applies when any emergency vehicle is approaching a driver on the road. Those emergency vehicles include law enforcement vehicles; fire department vehicles; public and private ambulances; and public and private rescue squad emergency service vehicles. When any of those types of vehicles give off a warning signal, the driver of every other vehicle on the road should immediately drive to the right-hand edge or curb and should stop and remain in that position until the emergency vehicle has passed. This requirement applies to all traffic on the road, regardless of the direction of travel, with only one exception: on a four-lane highway divided by a median, cars travelling in the opposite lanes of traffic do not have to pull over and stop. Failure to comply with these requirements of the Move Over Law in North Carolina (NC) is a class 2 misdemeanor.

Drivers also have specific obligations when traveling around a stopped emergency vehicle, whether it is on the roadway or within 12 feet of the roadway. Failure to comply with the requirements can mean a $250 fine. If there is no one directing traffic, then drivers should wait until it is safe to go around the vehicle and then:

  • If there are at least two lanes of traffic going each direction, the driver should go around the stopped emergency vehicle without entering the lane closest to the stopped vehicle.
  • If there is only one lane of traffic going in each direction, then the driver should slow down and be prepared to stop until completely around the stopped emergency vehicle.

Of course, if an incident actually happens as a result of failure to follow the Move Over Law, then more severe penalties kick in. Damage to property or injury to emergency personnel is a class 1 misdemeanor. If the incident results in serious injury or death to emergency personnel, then the driver could be guilty of a class 1 felony. Drivers license suspension is also a possible penalty.

Traffic can be unpredictable when emergency vehicles are on the road or near the scene of an incident. It is important that the other traffic on the road not interfere with their ability to respond or put the safety of emergency workers at stake. So when you’re out on the road, make sure you are complying with the Move Over Law.

About the Editors: The Shapiro, Cooper, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, which has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as a pro bono service.

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