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Protecting those who protect us

Eyes on the road, hands at 10 and 2, no distractions — these are the basic rules of the road everyone learns in Drivers Ed. For some of us, it’s only been a couple of years. For others, it’s been decades. But a tragic event in southeastern Beaufort County last week emphasizes the importance of another rule everyone should remember: if you see emergency vehicles with their lights on, slow down and move over.

That didn’t happen last Thursday, as a Pamlico County firefighter was assisting with traffic direction during a fire call on N.C. Highway 306. Instead, a motorist, for whatever reason, failed to approach the scene safely, critically injuring 20-year-old volunteer firefighter Maegan Speciale.

It’s a tragic accident that sent Speciale to the hospital in critical condition. For both the firefighter and the driver who hit her, the consequences of that night are severe. The future safety of first responders depends on North Carolina drivers familiarizing themselves with the state’s Move Over Law.

The Move Over Law first took effect in 2002, requiring motorists to move one lane away from any emergency vehicle on the side of the highway if they can safely do so. The law also applies to utility or public works vehicles with a flashing amber light.

Drivers are also required to slow down and approach cautiously when an emergency vehicle is stopped on the shoulder of the road.

A simple violation of the law carries a $250 fine. If the violation causes property damage or injury, it’s a class 1 misdemeanor. A law passed last year, known as the Jason Quick Act, in honor of a Lumberton police officer killed in the line of duty on Interstate 95 in 2018, made penalties stiffer for violations that lead to serious injury or death. It’s now a class F felony, punishable by jail time and a high-dollar fine.

But more important than any potential punishment that follows, this law was designed to save lives and prevent tragedy in the first place. With as much as our first responders do to protect our community, the least we can do is slow down and do our part to protect them.

To read more about North Carolina’s Move Over Law, visit www.ncdps.gov/our-organization/law-enforcement/state-highway-patrol/laws/move-over-law.