RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — We’re used to switching lanes when we see law enforcement or emergency vehicles on the side of the highway, but a new law expands that rule. Starting July 1st, if at all possible, drivers must move over, or slow down, on the highway for any car parked on the side of the road, regardless of its markings.
Whether you’ve run out of gas, are having a medical crisis, or are experiencing car trouble, pulling over on the side of a highway can be scary — and dangerous.
Janet Brooking has spent years working with groups like “Drive Smart Virginia” to encourage people to be safer drivers.
“Sometimes [drivers] don’t want to do things that may inconvenience them,” Brooking said. “But generally they want to be safe.”
She’s hopeful a recent law will help people do just that. It’s an expansion of Virginia’s current “Move over” law which, originally, only mandated drivers switch lanes or slow down on the highway if they see an emergency or law enforcement vehicle parked on the side of the road.
“Clearly we want to keep our emergency response folks safe on the roadways,” Brooking said. “But we want to keep all drivers safe.”
The new law strives to protect the everyday driver who comes across a roadside emergency and has to pull over. Now, regardless of a car’s status or markings, drivers are legally obligated to move aside and be cautious whenever those hazard lights are flashing on the highway’s shoulder.
“If it’s safe to do so,” Brooking said.
As cars race by, it can feel like you see parked cars along the highway every few minutes. Any one of them is vulnerable. In July 2022, near Ashland, 49-year-old Angela Hurley was killed along I-95 when another driver ran into the shoulder and hit Hurley as she waited inside her broken-down car for mechanical help.
“You hear story after story,” Brooking remarked. “And once you learn a little bit more, you realize that a lot of these crashes are preventable and that’s what makes it so sad.”
It’s all about safety. According to the insurance institute for highway safety, 300 people are killed every year after stopping on the side of the road and that number only continues to grow. It’s already up 25% since 2014.
“It’s so easy to just move over one lane and give them the space that they need to do what they’re doing,” Brooking said.
Failure to follow the move-over law counts as reckless driving and can warrant punishments like fines, license suspension, or even jail. Under the recent amendment, you’re also committing a traffic violation and are subject to those fines as well. This updated legislation goes into effect July 1, 2023.