Western North Carolina has a long, sad history regarding this state’s “Move Over’’ law.
In fact, tragedies in these mountains sparked the law and helped shape changes to it.
Across the mountain in Haywood County, N.C. Highway Patrol Trooper Calvin Taylor was struck and killed on I-40 while issuing a citation in 2001. Less than two years later, just a few miles down the same stretch of interstate, Trooper Anthony Cogdill was issuing a citation when he was struck and killed by a tractor-trailer.
Taylor’s death was the impetus for the state’s original “Move Over’’ law, which passed within three months of his death. That law requires motorists on a multi-lane highway approaching a parked or standing emergency vehicle with lights on to reduce speed and if possible move to the lane most distant from the emergency vehicle.
Over the years, tragedies involving first responders continued, and the law was stiffened as time passed.
In 2006 penalties for drivers who didn’t move over increased.
And the grim tally on the roads continued.
In 2018 Lumberton Police Officer Jason Quick was investigating an accident when he was struck down by a passing motorist.
That incident led to the latest round of changes in the law, known officially as the Officer Jason Quick Act, which went into effect Dec. 1.
Now, if you break the law and the result is serious injury or death, you’ll be facing a Class F felony and as much as 59 months in prison.
The law applies to much more than law enforcement and includes firefighters, paramedics, utility technicians and tow trucks responding to emergencies. Under the law, on two-lane highways, drivers have to slow down.
The law is important, and it’s particularly important on the type of roads found in Jackson County.
Getting behind the wheel is the most dangerous thing most of us will do in our lives. We’re hurtling along at high speed, with oncoming traffic doing the same, drivers and passengers wrapped in steel. When one of those rockets runs off the road, or worse, into an oncoming rocket, the results range from bad to worse to tragic.
Fortunately, there are folks out there who respond to such incidents, running against the clock to keep that bad-to-worse scenario at bad, delivering life-saving medical treatment, fending off chances of a deadly vehicular fire, clearing live wires from the road.
They’re usually on foot and exposed. Those folks aren’t afforded the protection of a layer of steel. They’re prey for secondary accidents, which can be more deadly than the wreck they’re working.
That deadly equation is even more complex on mountain roads, with tight curves, lessened visibility and, on many secondary roads, simply no place for drivers going an unsafe speed to bail out when they suddenly come upon a response scene.
We’re glad to see some teeth added to the “Move Over’’ law. We just hope drivers will begin heeding it and forego the need for still stiffer penalties in the future.