HELENA — Before you hit the road to visit family and friends during the holidays, there are a few tips for traveling, including following the law to move to the lane next or pull over as first-responders are trying to get by.
“There was nothing more scary, honestly, than getting the phone call that he had been hit," said Bethany Rehbein, founder of Move Over Montana.
Her husband is a Montana Highway Patrol officer who has been hit by vehicles that were passing too close for comfort.
The "Move Over Montana" law can be a life-saving action. The law requires drivers to move into the lane that is furthest from the first responders or towing vehicles on the side of the road and slow down to an appropriate speed. This is why Rehbein founded Move Over Montana, to raise awareness about the Move Over Law.
“Our families go out and work on the side of the road we're not sure if they'll come back and we need the public to help protect them,” said Rehbein.
This is why people need to respond quickly to first responders on the side of the road to avoid sliding into a scene.
Here is full text of the law:
61-8-346. Operation of vehicles on approach of authorized emergency vehicles or law enforcement vehicles -- approaching stationary emergency vehicles or law enforcement vehicles -- reckless endangerment of emergency personnel. (1) Upon the approach of an authorized emergency vehicle making use of audible and visual signals meeting the requirements of 61-9-402 or of a law enforcement vehicle properly and lawfully making use of an audible signal only, the operator of every other vehicle shall yield the right-of-way and shall immediately drive to a position parallel to, and as close as possible to, the right-hand edge or curb of the roadway clear of any intersection and shall stop and remain in that position until the authorized emergency vehicle or law enforcement vehicle has passed, except when otherwise directed by a police officer or highway patrol officer.
(2) This section does not relieve the driver of an authorized emergency vehicle or law enforcement vehicle from the duty to drive with due regard for the safety of all persons using the highway.
(3) On approaching and passing a stationary authorized emergency vehicle, law enforcement vehicle, or tow truck that is displaying visible signals of flashing or rotating amber, blue, red, or green lights or any temporary sign advising of an emergency scene or accident ahead, the operator of the approaching vehicle shall:
(a) cautiously and in a careful manner reduce the vehicle's speed to a reasonably lower and safe speed appropriate to the road and visual conditions or to the temporarily posted speed limit, but to a careful and prudent speed if a temporarily posted speed has not been posted;
(b) proceed with caution; and
(c) if possible considering safety and traffic conditions:
(i) move to a lane that is not adjacent to the lane in which the authorized emergency vehicle,law enforcement vehicle, or tow truck is located;
(ii) move as far away from the authorized emergency vehicle,law enforcement vehicle, or tow truck as possible; or
(iii) follow flagger instructions or instructions on sign boards.
(4) An operator of a vehicle who violates subsection (3) commits the offense of reckless endangerment of emergency personnel.
“You need to keep your eyes on the road and slow down quite a bit when you go past them if you are unable to move over,” said Rehbein.
Sergeant Jay Nelson of the Montana Highway Patrol says that speeding is the biggest factor in recent highway fatalities.
“One of the trends we've seen in fatality crashes, especially this year is speed, understanding that that speed limit sign is for the most ideal conditions, and so when we have inclement weather, whether it's raining, whether it's sleet/snow, slow it down,” said Sgt. Nelson.
Nelson says it is the most important thing to keep yourself and others safe on the roads.
“As emergency responders, we have a lot of things on our mind that we're doing and the last thing sometimes we're thinking about is that traffic coming at us and so slow down, move over you might save a life,” said Sgt. Nelson.
Slowing down can save a life, and luckily for Sgt. Nelson, one incident shows how important seatbelts and reduced speed can benefit you and others.
“I was on a motor vehicle crash, I checked the roadway no one was there, I got into my patrol car. I started to start my crash report and it felt like a couple of seconds I have been in the car, and it was like a sledgehammer hitting me from behind, and the young gal that did hit me, she was OK. She was completely hysterical that she had hit a police car. I said ‘Hey, as long as we're both OK, all is well,’ but it just shows you how quickly these things can happen and how much you really do have to slow down,” said Sgt. Nelson. (STORY)
Winter driving can be scary with weather changes throughout the state, Sgt. Nelson says to be prepared.
“Montana is a vast wide-open state and we love that, but you might be stuck someplace where there's no cell coverage where people might not be passing by on a regular basis, have it in your car that has a blanket in there has some food rations, has a signaling type device a little flag or something that you can put on your car it says I need help. That's the biggest thing we can tell people, let people know if you are traveling a long distance say, 'I'm leaving from here, I'm going to this destination, I should be there by such and such a time.' Those are all important things that are calls that we respond to every day when it becomes winter that it could be a very bad situation,” said Sgt. Nelson.
Click here to visit the Move Over Montana page on Facebook.