The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

July 4, 2013

Are you a help or hindrance when you see a firetruck?

Move it on over

By Jean Cole

— If you are driving along Jefferson Street in Athens and you see a firetruck roaring up behind you, do you know what to do?

Many motorists don’t know and a few probably don’t care. Either condition can result in an accident or a delay in providing firefighting or emergency medical service to someone in need.

“It’s a major problem,” said Athens Fire Chief Tony Kirk. “When I was growing up I remember my parents saying if you see an emergency vehicle, just stop and they will go around you. Well, that might have worked in 1975 when there were fewer cars on the road.”

With the July Fourth holiday underway, and heavy traffic all around, Kirk offers motorists this advice:

“They need to open up that far left lane so we can get through,” Kirk said. “Pull as far to the right as possible and stop your vehicle. Most of the time everyone forgets.”

Kirk said firetruck drivers are trained to approach all vehicles from the left.

He said when motorists are sitting at a traffic light in a left turn lane and there are “wall to wall” cars, the car or cars in the left turn lane should pull over (to the right) in front of the person in the next lane when it is safe to do so. This leaves an opening on the left for fire trucks.

The state’s move over law, which motorists are becoming more familiar with, applies more to emergency vehicles pulled over onto the roadside. It requires the following:

• Two lanes: Move over (away from the vehicles on the roadside) as far as possible without leaving the lane and slow to at least 15 mph below the posted limit if the speed limit is 25 mph or higher, or slow to 10 mph if the speed limit is 20 mph or less.

• Four or more lanes: Move over one lane (away from the vehicles on the roadside) or, if it’s unsafe to move over, slow down to a speed at least 15 mph below the posted limit.

Not optional

Moving over for emergency vehicles is not only a good idea, it is the law.

The Alabama Legislature passed the “Move Over” law in 2006 at the urging of law enforcement officers who pull motorist over and emergency personnel who work wrecks. The law was later amended to include wreckers and utility service vehicles.  Lawmakers are considering adding garbage trucks.

Since 1999, more than 150 law enforcement officers nationwide have been killed and thousands injured by motorists who failed to see them, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. Some of the drivers were simply not paying attention. Some were intoxicated. Some were speeding and did not have time to react, particularly at night.

Failing to move over can result in a fine of up to $25 for the first offense and more for subsequent offenses. Law enforcement officers take it seriously. It is not unheard of for an officer already involved in a traffic stop to pause and pursue a motorist who fails to move over. 

For more information about the law, go online to the Department of Public Safety's website at