Ambrose-Searles Act designed to protect emergency responders from passing traffic
Despite all the dangerous situations emergency responders place themselves in every day, the most deadly is also one of the most routine: getting out of the car.
Since 1999, more than 160 law enforcement officers nationwide have been killed by being struck by passing vehicles while performing duties on the roadside, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. Firefighters and emergency medical responders face similar dangers.
But starting this year, New York becomes the last state in the continental U.S. to adopt a move over law compelling drivers to slow down and move over if they approach an emergency vehicle on the side of the road. (Hawaii and Washington, D.C. are the only stragglers).
It’s dubbed the Ambrose-Searles `Move Over Act,` after New York State Trooper Robert W. Ambrose and Onondaga County Sheriff Deputy Glenn M. Searles, who were both killed in the line of duty by passing traffic.
Ambrose was killed in 2002 on the Thruway by an intoxicated driver who struck the rear of his patrol car. In that incident, the driver and a person in the car that was originally pulled over were also killed.
Searles in 2003 was struck by a minivan driver experiencing chest pains as he helped a motorist.
`The highways is one of the most dangerous environments faced by law enforcement,` said state police Acting Superintendent John Melville. `Unfortunately, too many motorists either ignore or fail to perceive the dangers associated with driving too close to emergency vehicles that are stopped on the side of the road.`
Local emergency agencies are sounding off in praise of the new law.
`Our police officers, firefighters and EMTs have no choice but to work in those dangerous conditions,` said Sean Maguire, of the Town of Guilderland Fire Chiefs Association. `I have experienced my own close calls as a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician working along our area’s roads due to vehicles traveling fast and close to an emergency scene.`
Bethlehem Police Chief Louis Corsi said he hopes the new law will remind drivers to exercise caution when they see emergency lights ahead ` not just because it’s the law, but because it’s the responsible thing to do.
`This law really addresses the most dangerous environments that are faced by law enforcement,` he said. `It’s really a common sense law.`
Bethlehem has not had any officers struck by passing vehicles, but there have been incidents.
`We have had patrol cars rear ended by people who for one reason or another were not paying attention,` Corsi said. `The potential for catastrophe exists, not just here in Bethlehem but everywhere.`
The Colonie Police Department, like Bethlehem, reported several incidents of patrol cars being struck, but also an incident where an officer was struck by a vehicle and injured badly enough to have to take disability.
Under the new law, motorists must reduce speed and use caution when approaching a stopped emergency vehicle with its lights activated. On roadways with multiple lanes, drivers must also move from the lane adjacent from the emergency vehicle unless traffic or other conditions make it unsafe to do so.
Violators of the new law can face a fine of up to $275 and two points on their license.