Most local drivers know to move over for emergency vehicles, but a recent crash shows we need to stay alert for the unexpected, like a center-lane breakdown.
On Dec. 26, a Washington State Patrol trooper stopped to help a disabled motorist blocking the center lane of eastbound Interstate 90 between Bellevue and Issaquah. A driver approaching from behind saw the emergency lights flashing in the dark but didn't realize the patrol car was stopped. She looked down to adjust her dashboard controls and
plowed into the trooper's car, heaving it into the disabled vehicle, which struck the trooper.
The trooper suffered serious injuries but was released from Overlake Hospital the next day.
A State Patrol spokesman said that although cell phones are to blame for many crashes, "all distractions are hazardous while driving. This crash was entirely avoidable had the driver been paying attention."
Washington's and Oregon's "Move Over" laws require drivers to stay alert when emergency vehicles appear in their rearview mirrors, and to move right off the roadway. When approaching an emergency vehicle up ahead that's off the right side of the road, drivers must slow down and, if feasible, move over to the left.
The latest PEMCO Poll reveals the vast majority of Northwest drivers know the law requiring them to slow down and move over.
In the Dec. 26 I-90 crash, the driver neither slowed down or moved over.
On a related note, Washington drivers now face the full force of the state's new distracted driving law. The State Patrol's grace period expired Monday. If you're caught driving while using your phone, first-time violators now will be fined $136. Drivers also can be fined for other distractions like eating, reading, or grooming.
If you're tempted to munch a sloppy cheeseburger or taco behind the wheel, don't. Spilled food (think hot coffee, or drippy mustard, ketchup, or mayonnaise) causes many distracted crashes.
Personally, if I'm famished while on a long freeway jaunt in light traffic, I'll stop for chicken nuggets or Taco Time crisp burritos – bite-size food that's easy to handle and won't ooze fluids.