So many times a day they are vulnerable at the side of an interstate, or any other busy street, at a traffic stop or accident scene, exposed to traffic they hope will notice them and “move over.”
According to Mt. Juliet police records, in 2013 there were 16,000 traffic stops. That’s an average of 44 stops a day. The stops put officers in danger.
A recent tragedy on Interstate 65 northbound in Nashville that took the life of a 25-year-old Metro Nashville officer brought the issue more to light, and now there is national social media movement to help raise awareness to the “move over” law.
The law mandates motorists move over to the next lane when possible, or when not able, slow down when they see patrol cars’ flashing lights at an obvious traffic stop or accident, according to Mt. Juliet police spokesperson Tyler Chandler.
He remembers the May 10 incident when the entrance to the I-65 northbound lanes were blocked by a large overturned trailer pulled by a pickup truck. Both Michael Petrina and a Tennessee Department of Transportation Help Truck operator positioned their vehicles in the two right lanes of the four-lane interstate. Both had their emergency lights activated and orange cones were placed behind both vehicles, according to a Metro police report.
A motorhome pulling a trailer approached the scene, and the driver reported the speed and volume of traffic in both lanes prevented him from moving to the left, according to the report. The driver attempted to drive in between the police car and the help truck.
Both Petrina and the Help Truck operator were standing beside the Help Truck’s driver’s door. The operator ran out of the way, but Petrina was unable to get out of the way. He was thrown underneath the motorhome’s trailer and died at the scene, according to the report.
“The move over law requires motorists to move over, and if they can’t, slow down,” said Chandler. “If you see flashing lights, there’s something wrong. It’s sad a lot of people don’t see us, or they are not focused. They sometimes run into an officer or their vehicle.
Chandler said the “majority” of people are aware and move over, but “we are worried about the people who don’t.”
Tennessee Department of Transportation public affairs officer Dalya Qualls in correspondence to various law enforcement agencies said the incident was the impetus to start an awareness movement.
Chandler said it started with Tennessee Highway Patrol’s Col. Tracy Trott.
“He posted a photo holding a sign about move over, and it went viral and national.”
Qualls said TDOT joined in. Oftentimes TDOT employees are just as vulnerable on the roads during jobs.
“We’re trying to start a #MoveOver movement on Twitter on behalf of all law enforcement, first responders and public safety officials,” said Qualls in a memo Chandler received.
“I saw Trott’s tweet and thought it was pretty neat,” said Chandler.
Mt. Juliet police jumped on the viral bandwagon to raise awareness. There have been many tweets with the “move over” signs held by not only officers, but also their loved ones. Many offer messages, such as “#MoveOver I love my dad” or “I love my granddad.”
How officers try to protect themselves in traffic
There are several tactics officers are taught to protect themselves from being struck while on the scene or on a traffic stop when speeding traffic is a foot away.
They position their cars in a certain way and turn their wheels all the way right or left, whichever is appropriate. This way if the car is struck it will veer away from the other vehicle and the officer. Officers approach the passenger side of the vehicle, on the other side of the car from traffic.
“We try to encourage the motorist to go to a certain area,” said Chandler. “We will use the PA system to tell them to pull to a safer location. Many times people stop at a guardrail, and there is no room for an officer to stand. We tell them to move forward to a grassy area.”
What should motorists do when they see blue lights in heavy traffic?
When a driver sees blue lights they know they need to pull over; if they don’t they know they will seem suspicious. Chandler said if it’s a dangerous area, the driver needs to immediately let the officer know they are aware and will pull over.
“I advise to reduce the speed, put on your blinkers or flash lights and let the officer know you will pull over at the nearest safe spot,” he said.
Move over Movement will make a difference
“I think it’s a wonderful tool to raise awareness,” said Chandler. “If they see a tweet, or read about the movement in the Mt. Juliet News, it puts it on peoples’ mind to move over. It’s a good reminder. There are some benefits to it for sure.
“It’s not just about the officers, it’s about their families,” said Chandler.
“I think sometimes people view us as robots just doing our jobs,” he said. “But in reality we are just normal, everyday people with normal lives and a family to go home to at night.”