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‘Move Over’ Laws Keep 1st Responders Safe, Hard To Enforce

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NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Between Monday night and Tuesday morning, emergency crews responded to nearly 700 accidents across the Metroplex.

And as is evident after a Dallas firefighter was knocked off an overpass bridge and killed, responding to those crashes can put first responders in jeopardy.

There is a law designed to help protect those civil servants but it’s often ignored.

Officer David Tilley still remembers the close calls he had while working as a patrol officer. “It’s very scary,” the officer with the Plano Police Department recalled. “It’s something that… when those cars come by at that high rate of speed you can feel the wind coming off of that vehicle hit you.”

More than a dozen firefighters and police officers are killed each year by vehicles that get too close to accident scenes and traffic stops.

Bad weather that leads to accidents can put first responders in even greater danger — like the Dallas Fire Rescue crew that was parked on the southbound Spur 408 overpass Monday night.

Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Sergeant Lonny Haschel detailed the advice that is given out, over and over.

“Anytime we have ice, rain, anything that’s out of the ordinary, we encourage people to slow down, turn their headlights on and watch for construction vehicles, police cars, fire trucks, ambulances, wreckers [and] that kind of thing.”

A state law in Texas and 48 other states requires motorists to either move out of the lane closest to the stopped emergency vehicle or reduce their speed to 20 miles below the speed limit. But officers say the “move over law” is rarely obeyed and hard for them to enforce.

“Many times we’re dealing with an incident and we can’t just leave that incident and start taking off after somebody who actually that violated that law,” Haschel said.

It’s hard to say if the move over law would apply in the case of the accident that killed Dallas Fire Rescue firefighter and paramedic William “Scott” Tanksley, because the firefighter’s death happened on an overpass and it’s unclear how fast the driver who struck him was traveling.

Police and firefighters who spoke with CBS 11 News said they hope that firefighter Tanksley’s death is a wake up call for motorist to slow down around accident scenes and traffic stops.

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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