By Tamas Mondovics

Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office deputies have stepped up their efforts reminding residents and motorists of an important but if ignored, potentially fatal traffic law, which is often unheeded, forgotten or simply claimed unknown by many.

Florida’s “Slow Down and Move Over” law states that as “motorists approach and pass all emergency vehicles on the side of the road, they are to move out of the lane closest to it (providing that the road has two or more lanes in their direction) and slow the speed to 20 MPH less than the posted speed limit.”

“The law is in place to prevent accidents and injuries to passengers and emergency vehicles on the side of the road,” said HCSO District 4 Cpl., Greg Wynn, adding that all 50 states have a form of the “Move Over” law in place.

According to a recent report by National Traffic Incident Management Network, five firefighters are struck each year while one police officer each month, one tow-truck operator per week and one road worker every three days.

The necessity of reminding motorists of the “Move Over” law also made headlines locally following an accident that sent HCSO District 4, Master Deputy Chris Davis and Captain Steve Launikitis to the hospital with serious injuries after they were conducting a routine traffic stop on Bryan Martinez of Valrico, who was riding his 2005 Suzuki motorcycle.

While interviewing Martinez on the west shoulder of southbound I-75, just north of the Sun City exit ramp (SR 674) a 1993 Honda Goldwing motorcycle, driven southbound on I-75 by Bryan Edmonston, 27, of 160 Albany Dr., Kissimmee, drove into the right emergency lane and struck the officers, deputies said.

Davis, 49, a 27-year veteran and 31-year veteran, Launikitis, 53, were both transported via Medivac helicopter to Tampa General Hospital, with injuries requiring immediate surgery.

“Just seconds before the crash, the two deputies managed to alert Martinez to move because they saw that they were going to be struck by the motorcycle,” HCSO spokesman Larry McKinnon said. “Their actions prevented Martinez from being hit or injured but, unfortunately, they were unable to avoid being hit themselves.”

McKinnon emphasized that the law was created because there are a lot of accidents and injuries on the side of Florida highways and roads.

HCSO Cpl. Tracy Reeves agreed, and mentioned the importance of conducting regular multi-agency, targeted traffic enforcement deployments on county roads to assist motorists on being familiar with the laws and not take them for granted.

“It is all about educating the public,” Reeves said while taking the lead on a recent traffic enforcement operation targeting the “Move Over” law on SR 60 just east of Brandon.

During the hour-long detail, the fact that most drivers either do not want to follow or are clearly oblivious of the law—some passing a traffic stop exceeding 60 mph—was unquestionably tested as deputies were pulling motorists over for violation of the law, one after another.

“We could literally do this all day long,” Robert Bateman, a 16-year veteran with the department’s District 2 office said.

“Make no mistake about it,” Bateman said, as he was issuing a citation to a motorist for failure to follow the “Move Over” law. “It’s the law and is in place to assist, protect and keep emergency and  road workers safe while they are doing their job. Failure to comply with the law will result in a $153 fine and three points on your driver’s license.”

As the two HCSO deputies recover from their injuries, the department hopes to see motorists do their part by cooperating with the laws and support those who are risking their lives and their own safety to protect them.

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