State Police: Move over when you see a trooper

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 14, 2008

FRANKLIN—Virginia State Police hope that a campaign to raise awareness of a largely unknown state law will make the state’s highways safer for troopers.

A new public service announcement uses the compelling video of a trooper narrowly avoiding catastrophic injury to make its point about the dangers Virginia State Police officers face when making traffic stops along the commonwealth’s highways.

For those who serve from the Area 34 office on Camp Parkway near Franklin, Virginia’s promotion of the six-year-old &uot;Slow Down, Move Over law&uot; has special significance.

A beloved coworker, Sr. Trooper Robert A. Hill Sr., was killed in November 2006 when he was struck by another vehicle while conducting a traffic stop along Route 58.

The elderly driver of the vehicle that struck Hill, Lowell J. Carrington, was convicted in August of failing, as the law requires, to &uot;yield the right-of-way or reduce speed when approaching&uot; Hill’s vehicle on the side of the road.

&uot;Tragically, too many law enforcement officers are struck and killed or seriously injured while doing their job,&uot; Col. W. Steven Flaherty, Virginia’s State Police Superintendent, says in an Internet message kicking off the campaign. &uot;Remember, by moving over, you give our troopers the room to move safely on the side of the road.&uot;

A link takes Web site visitors to an online video in which a trooper describes Virginia’s &uot;Slow Down, Move Over&uot; law, while accompanying dashboard video shows an out-of-control car slamming into back of another trooper’s vehicle just as he is getting ready to step into the open passenger door.

Virginia’s 2,000 state troopers &uot;all have one thing in common,&uot; the narrator says. &uot;We’ve either been struck, or nearly struck by a passing motorist while performing our duties on Virginia’s roadways.&uot;

At least 29 Virginia State Troopers have been killed in motor vehicle accidents since 1928, according to a memorial page on the state police Web site. At least eight of those deaths were caused by passing motorists.

Trooper M.W. Wrenn, a field training officer in the Courtland area office, said state police officers get extensive training in safe traffic-stop procedures.

A trooper might angle his car behind an offender’s during a traffic stop in order to provide some protection in the event of a crash, he said. Officers also have the option to approach a stopped vehicle from the passenger side to get away from the travel lanes, although dealing with an offender through the driver’s window gets the officer closer to the driver and improves his ability to detect the odor of alcohol, Wrenn said.

&uot;The individual officer keeps in mind his safety before he makes a stop,&uot; he said.

Wrenn said that in his own experience, most motorists move over when approaching a stopped police car.

Still, however, there are close calls &uot;pretty much every day.&uot;

Eliminating those close calls is the goal of the new law and of the state police public information campaign.

&uot;Remember, Virginia,&uot; the public service announcement states, &uot;If you see an emergency vehicle stopped on the shoulder of the highway, you must change lanes away from the stopped emergency vehicle. And if you can’t change lanes, you must slow down and pass with caution. It’s not just a good idea; it’s Virginia law.&uot;