WASILLA - A new highway safety bill requires Alaska drivers to give parked emergency vehicles wide berth or face a fine.
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A revised "Move Over Law" took effect last week.
It requires vehicles to move over for parked vehicles with flashing emergency lights on roadways with two or more lanes in the same direction. If traffic conditions do not safely permit that, drivers must noticeably slow down.
Drivers on roads with two lanes in opposing directions also are required to slow down.
The law applies to parked fire department and law enforcement vehicles, tow trucks and animal control officials performing their duties.
Darin Minkler, a tow truck driver for Matanuska Towing and Recovery, said that in 21 years of driving, he can easily remember six tow truck drivers being struck by moving vehicles.
"I personally got hit once - just with a mirror - but it hurt," he said. "My hope is that folks will slow down when they see the lights. Quite often our lives are completely ignored."
Minkler was sweeping away debris when he was struck by a truck driver looking at a crash site.
Working the Glenn Highway during rush hour is spooky because cars and trucks often fly by him at 70 mph with just inches to spare, he said. His father Duane, who also drives tow trucks, campaigned hard for the law - not just for their lives, but for the lives of all emergency and safety personnel.
The law is a revision of one that passed last year, which law enforcement said was unenforceable because of vague wording.
Alaska State Trooper Capt. Dennis Casanovas said he conducts traffic stops weekly on the Glenn and Parks highways and watches drivers not move over. Most people are not aware of the law, he said, and he hopes the revision will prevent future injuries.
"It's those types of crashes, that in this case injured the officer and also injured occupants of the other vehicle that had already been stopped," Casanovas said.
Violators may get a two-point ticket and receive a $150 fine. Injuries that occur because the driver fails to slow down or move over will result in a mandatory court date, said Megan Peters, a trooper spokeswoman.
"We will be enforcing this," she said. "We've had people have to medically retire because they were injured."
No troopers in Alaska have been killed by moving vehicles while working on the sides of roadways. However, since 2000, 67 law enforcement officers have been killed elsewhere in the United States from being struck by a vehicle while on the side of the road, troopers said.
Information from: Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman, http://www.frontiersman.com.