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10/23/2007
Virginia: Unknown Traffic Violation Carries $2500 Fine
Virginia motorists face $2500 fine for Move Over traffic violation about which 71 percent of public is unaware.

Traffic stopFive years ago, the Virginia legislature made it a serious crime to drive past a police officer stopped on the side of the road without changing lanes. As a result, unsuspecting motorists -- including those who are not speeding -- can nonetheless be caught in a speed trap and face a first degree misdemeanor ticket that carries a fine of up to $2500. Despite the significant financial penalty involved, nearly three-quarters of all motorists have never heard of "move over" laws, according to a Virginia State Police news release issued in July.

Forty states require drivers approaching a police vehicle with flashing lights activated either to make an immediate lane change or to slow down at least 20 MPH under the posted speed limit.

"If drivers do not move over or slow down, officers can and do write citations," the Virginia State Police statement explained.

"Our nation's law enforcement professionals put their lives on the line to protect our citizens," said Bill Johnson, executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations. "Slowing down and changing lanes to give our first responders the space they need to stay safe is the least we can do in return. It's what we must do. Move Over, America. It's the law."

Motorists who are pulled over in a speed trap, however, can find themselves placed in just as much peril as law enforcement (see video of an incident). Likewise, some police agencies reject move over laws as dangerous. In 2005, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) vetoed similar legislation, citing the objection of the California Highway Patrol.

"This bill is unnecessary and could result in the unintended consequences of additional roadway hazards," Schwarzenegger said in his veto message. "Specifically, the California Highway Patrol is concerned that this bill's mandate could create chaotic and dangerous situations at crime and collision scenes on the state's freeways."

A year later, an essentially identical Move Over bill was signed into law in California.

Article Excerpt:
Virginia Code 46.2-921.1
The driver of any motor vehicle, upon approaching a stationary emergency vehicle, as defined in 46.2-920, that is displaying a flashing, blinking, or alternating emergency light or lights as provided in 46.2-1022, 46.2-1023, and 46.2-1024, shall (i) on a highway having at least four lanes, at least two of which are intended for traffic proceeding as the approaching vehicle, proceed with caution and, if reasonable, with due regard for safety and traffic conditions, yield the right-of-way by making a lane change into a lane not adjacent to that occupied by the stationary emergency vehicle or (ii) if changing lanes would be unreasonable or unsafe, proceed with due caution and maintain a safe speed for highway conditions.

Violation of any provision of this section shall constitute a Class 1 misdemeanor. If the violation resulted in damage to property of another person, the court may, in addition, order the suspension of the driver's privilege to operate a motor vehicle for not more than one year. If the violation resulted in injury to another person, the court may, in addition to any other penalty imposed, order the suspension of the driver's privilege to operate a motor vehicle for not more than two years. If the violation resulted in the death of another person, the court may, in addition to any other penalty imposed, order the suspension of the driver's privilege to operate a motor vehicle for two years.



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