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PA Senators Consider Harsher Penalties For Drivers Who Don’t Move Over For Emergency Vehicles

Sam Dunklau
Former Pa. State Police Sgt. Bob Bemis speaks at a rally supporting increased penalties for those who fail to comply with the state's Steer Clear law. At right, state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R, Adams County).

The Pennsylvania Senate Transportation committee approved a measure Wednesday to double the fines and add license points against drivers who disobey the state’s Steer Clear law.

Dozens of the measure’s supporters rallied at the State Capitol building Tuesday, following a procession of emergency service vehicles. At least seven people told stories of being struck by a vehicle while working on the side of the road, or spoke for someone they know.

Each highlighted what they say is a need for better education and stricter enforcement of the Steer Clear law.

State Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-Adams County) also spoke during the rally.

“When you [emergency workers] are out there doing your jobs, there should be no reason you’re constantly looking over your shoulder waiting for the shoe to drop,” Mastriano told the crowd.

Former State Police Sgt. Bob Bemis was one of several who shared his story. He was struck in 2015 by a vehicle that lost control. Bemis endured months of surgery and years of physical therapy, and uses forearm crutches to help him walk.

“I’m disgusted at the selfishness of those who refuse to slow down and move over when approaching emergency lights,” Bemis said. “I’m disheartened at the number of deaths and injuries that leave responders disabled and disfigured, and leave their families devastated.”

Existing state law requires those driving in Pennsylvania to slow down and move over any time they encounter an emergency vehicle with its lights or sirens on.

If they don’t, authorities can fine a driver $250 for a first offense, and up to $1,000 for additional violations. Despite those potential punishments, the Senate GOP said state police troopers ticketed drivers more than 7,000 times over the last few years for failing to yield to emergency workers.

Data from the Harrisburg-based Emergency Responder Safety Institute shows that failure can have deadly consequences for those workers. At least 35 people in the U.S. have been hit or killed during a roadside incident this year. Two were in Pennsylvania.

State Sen. Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland County) is co-sponsoring the move to make penalties harsher. She said she’s disappointed she even has to.

“I can’t think of anything more simple than slowing down and moving over if you can. I don’t understand any of the folks who are resisting this a little bit, because it just makes perfect sense,” Ward said.

The measure now moves to the full state Senate. If approved by the state legislature and Gov. Tom Wolf, the Steer Clear law would be rebranded as the “Move Over” law.

Drivers would be fined at least $500 for a first offense, up from $250, and as much as $2,000 for another offense. They would also earn two points against their license. Before, the state gave no points for failing to move over for emergency workers.

Before voting to move the measure out of committee, Ward turned to the few emergency workers gathered in the committee room in Harrisburg.

“Our first responders are out there helping folks who had accidents. We need to slow down and move over,” she said.

Read more from our partners, WITF.