Roadside Safety: ‘Slow Down, Move Over’ Laws Explained


Many of the tow operators ADD works with will recognize the life-saving mantra “Slow Down, Move Over,” but have you ever wondered how these laws became a driving force in the United States?

What Is a Move Over Law?

A Move Over law requires motorists to slow down and create a one-lane buffer zone for stopped emergency vehicles and, in some states, tow truck drivers and disabled vehicles. For instance, if a driver encounters a stationary emergency vehicle while driving in the right lane, they must move one lane to the left to ensure a safety buffer, mitigating the risk of potential accidents.

How Did ‘Move Over’ Become Law?

On January 28, 1994, in Lexington, South Carolina, a paramedic named James D. Garcia found himself in a life-changing incident. While assisting a driver who had skidded off the road, Garcia was struck and seriously injured. Astonishingly, despite simply performing his duties as a paramedic, the South Carolina Highway Patrol placed the blame for the accident on Garcia.

Determined to enhance the safety of his fellow paramedics and emergency responders, Garcia embarked on his mission to change how roadside incidents were handled. It took two years for the South Carolina General Assembly to pass the inaugural Move Over law in 1996, which was further refined six years later in 2002 to facilitate more effective enforcement.

While the initial law passed in 1996 was limited to South Carolina, the rest of the United States was witnessing accidents comparable to the one that affected Garcia. It wasn’t until 2000 that the U.S. Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration took long-overdue steps to address the issue of emergency scene safety. They issued recommended changes for the new Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), which aimed to establish higher standards and enhanced protection for emergency personnel. Thanks to the work of public interest groups like the Emergency Responder Safety Institute, Move Over laws became the standard across the United States by 2012.MoveOverTimeline (2)-1Move Over by State

In response to the rising number of roadside fatalities in the line of duty, all 50 states have since enacted their own versions of Move Over laws. Currently Washington D.C. is the only exception. Although the fundamental concept behind each law is to protect emergency responders working along the roadside, there are different expectations for drivers in each state. In some states, drivers aren’t required to change lanes. Of the states that do require lane changes, some employ general language, such as “exercise due care not to collide,” while others have specific directives like “shift to a non-adjacent lane.” These variations underscore the importance of paying attention to the laws in each state, as many drivers either don’t obey these laws or don’t even know they exist.

Move Over by Numbers

  • On average, two emergency responders, including tow workers, are struck and killed every month in the United States by a driver who fails to obey the Move Over law.

  • According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 60% of tow workers, emergency responders, and road maintenance workers have experienced a near miss while working roadside. 15% said they survived being hit by a passing vehicle.

  • Roadside crashes are particularly deadly for tow workers. Data shows tow operators are killed at a rate of almost 43 deaths per 100,000 workers, compared to just three for other industries.

  • Unfortunately, a national poll sponsored by the National Safety Commission reports that 67% of the public isn’t aware of Move Over laws.

ADDMoveOverStats (1)-1Keeping Emergency Workers Safe

In 2023, AAA conducted a pair of field studies on busy roads to assess the effectiveness of various safety measures for safeguarding roadside workers. The studies showed that when activating vehicle-mounted variable message signs (digital road signs used to inform car drivers about specific temporary events and real-time traffic conditions), or VMS, drivers are more likely to change lanes and slow down. A vehicle was 95% more likely to switch lanes in the presence of an active VMS.

Passenger vehicles demonstrated a greater responsiveness to VMS cues than trucks or busses, although both were more likely to move over with an active VMS than without. Other safety measures, such as flares, emergency lights, and cones, encouraged more lane shifts than without them, but they were less effective at reducing speeds or increasing the distance between passing vehicles that opted not to change lanes.

Best Course of Action for Drivers

If you find yourself driving in a state where you’re not well-versed in the Move Over laws, you might be uncertain of what course of action you should take. To ensure the safety of both yourself and roadside emergency workers, adopt the following best practices: reduce your speed to a range of 10-20 mph below the posted speed limit, then attempt to change lanes. If changing lanes isn’t possible, slow down as much as you reasonably can while passing workers.

Since their introduction in 1996, Move Over laws have saved countless lives. Ensuring the safety of emergency responders and roadside workers remains the responsibility of those on the road. Educating yourself on the laws in your state and discussing their importance with others can be the difference between life and death.