Articles Posted in New Laws/Statutes

On January 1, 2011 the Move Over Act was made the law of New York State. Although the statute has been in effect since January 1, 2011, many motorists are unaware of its existence. The Act requires that motorists who observe emergency vehicles with their lights flashing on the side of a highway must reduce their speed and drive with “due care.” If the driver is on a highway with multiple lanes, he or she must pull the vehicle one lane to the left to avoid the possibility of endangering the safety of the emergency personnel.

For those of you not aware of the Move Over Act, beware, for it has now been expanded to include tow trucks and maintenance vehicles with flashing amber lights, as well as other vehicles assisting motorists at the side of the roadway.

The Act was instituted in response to several cases over the last ten years in which emergency personnel and police officers were either killed or suffered severe injuries due to motorists following too closely or too fast in proximity to responding emergency personnel or officers. The official title of the statute is the Ambrose-Searles Move Over Act, named after New York State Trooper Robert W. Ambrose and Onondaga County Sheriff Glenn M. Searles who were killed in the line of duty while they were responding to emergencies on the roadway. In the case of Trooper Searles, this occurred in nearby Yonkers, New York when Ambrose was struck and killed by a motorist while preparing an accident report on the New York State Thruway.

More recently, in November of 2011, a tow truck operator was struck by a passing vehicle and killed while he was assisting a disabled vehicle near Syracuse, New York. Undoubtedly, this tragic fatal car accident was an impetus for the expansion of the scope of the regulation. Two weeks ago, in Peekskill, New York a motorist was charged with a violation of the law and other traffic infractions when his vehicle struck and injured a Westchester County police officer who was involved in a traffic stop on Route 9 in Croton on Hudson.

According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, since 1999, more than 160 law enforcement officials have been killed as a result of being struck while assisting in roadway incidents. A violation of the Move Over Act results in a $275.00 fine and a two point assessment on the motorists’ driver’s license.

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This week New York State changed its rules regarding teenage drivers to improve safety on the roadways. Effective immediately, teenage drivers with a learner’s permit obtained at age 16 will be required to wait six months to take their road test to obtain a license. Second, the new law increases from 20 to 50 the amount of hours that the teenage driver must complete, as verified by a parent (15 of those hours during night time) before he or she can get a license. Third, drivers with learner’s permits or a junior license are now limited to one non-family passenger under the age of 21 in the car unless there is an adult in the vehicle as well.

The new rules have been established due to significant statistics reflecting the percentages of teen and young adult drivers in New York car crashes. According to the National Safety Council, motorists aged 16 to 24 comprised 16% of all drivers in New York, but accounted for approximately 26 % of all injuries and New York wrongful death fatalities in 2008. In 2001, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reported that the amount of car crashes almost doubled for each additional teenage passenger in a vehicle. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported in 2008 that 16 year old drivers are 3 times more likely to be in a car accident than 17 year olds, and a whopping 5 times more likely to be in crashes than 18 year old drivers!

For those of us with teenage children and impending young drivers in the near future, the new law is a very sensible and proactive approach to improving young driver safety, and I applaud the legislators behind this new legislation.

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On November 1, 2009, New York’s statewide ban on texting while driving goes into effect. The law was designed to prevent or reduce serious New York car crashes such as the tragic accident last year in which several young teens lost their lives when the driver lost control and struck a tractor trailer while texting. However, what makes little sense is that the law as presently written does not permit the police to issue a ticket for the violation unless the operator is guilty of another moving violation, such as speeding or an unsafe lane change. Thus, as long as the texting driver doesn’t speed, go through a red light, or switch lanes suddenly, they will not be issued a summons. Obviously, the New York State Legislature either did not think this law through very thoroughly, or the texting lobby has done a very good job of taking some bite out of the bill.

The fine for a violation of the new law is $150.00. Graham Parker, a spokesman for the New York State Senate Transportation Committee, claims that the “Legislature will keep in touch with law enforcement agencies after the law takes effect and can change it if needed.” Nonetheless, if the purpose of the law was to deter distracted driving and prevent New York fatal car accidents or serious injuries, I personally do not see how this toothless law will do much to accomplish that goal. Distracted driving has become such a serious issue that Ray LaHood, the U.S. Transportation Secretary, has announced that there will be a “distracted driver” summit in Washington on September 30th and October 1st to review the problem.

Local police departments have become more skilled at detecting drivers who are texting while driving, despite the fact that many will hold their phone below dashboard level. Methods include using vehicles that give them the ability to look down into nearby cars to identify texting drivers, stationing a plainclothes officer at a location where he can look down into cars slowing for traffic and then notify a cruiser up ahead, or simply watching body language and eyes looking down rather than straight ahead.

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