It seems like it would be impossible to miss the flashing police lights and hazards on the highway, evidence of a state trooper or EMTs at an accident scene. Those lights are so bright and designed to be seen from far off, to give drivers a chance to slow down, and move over into the next lane. But if someone is looking at their cell phone, it's the same as driving with their eyes closed. If they're driving drunk, they might not be able to discern where their car is headed. While each case has it's own unique circumstances, and not all the incidents mentioned below necessarily involved drunk or distracted driving, with those behaviors more and more prevalent on Washington roads, it's likely playing a part in the increase in troopers hit.
As a personal injury lawyer in Bellingham who specializes in distracted driving cases, I hear about these tragedies all too often. Lawmakers can make it illegal to drive drunk or use cell phones while driving, and it's even illegal to not get over when emergency vehicles are pulled over on the shoulder. But collisions happen, and often with devastating consequences.
Below is a press release from the Washington State Patrol about an increase in troopers being victim to other drivers while investigating accidents.
Olympia – At 11:23 p.m, on December 7th, a driver plowed into the back of a patrol car while the trooper investigated a collision blocking the HOV lane along Southbound I-5 at Tully’s. Fortunately, no one was injured. This is the 4th trooper‘s patrol car hit since November 28th.
- At 6:50 a.m. on Saturday November 28th, a Trooper received minor injuries while sitting in his patrol car that was struck from behind while he was investigating a collision along Westbound 18 to South I-5 King County in Federal Way.
- At 10:53 p.m. on December 1st, a patrol car was struck while the trooper investigated a collision on Northbound 1-5 just south of 175th King County.
- At 7p.m. on December 5th, a patrol car was hit along Westbound I-90 at mile post 60 about 10 miles west of Easton.
Between 2007 and 2014, 212 Washington State Patrol (WSP) vehicles were struck while conducting traffic stops or providing motorist assistance. Three troopers and multiple citizens have been injured in collisions over the last seven years, as a result of vehicles either striking the trooper or a parked emergency vehicle.
Form October 27 to October 29, Troopers conducted a state-wide emphasis patrol to increase awareness to the Move Over Law. During the emphasis, troopers stopped and contacted over 500 violators of the Move Over Law, issuing 34 tickets and 9 written warnings.
The goal of the emphasis was to remind drivers of the law. If you see police, fire, medical, tow trucks or vehicles providing roadside assistance, making use of hazard lights, move over or slowdown. As of November 30, 2015, troopers have stopped over 3800 violators of the Move Over Law.
According to the Move Over Law, RCW 46.61.212, drivers approaching an emergency zone are required to either move over to another lane in the same direction, if it is safe to do so, or if a driver is unable to move over safely, proceed with caution and reduce the speed of their vehicle. Emergency vehicles include police, fire, medical, tow trucks and vehicles providing roadside assistance, making use of hazard lights.
This is a nationwide problem. In 2014, WSP troopers stopped over 4,000 violators of the Move Over Law.
For more on this serious issue, read this story in the Seattle Times on the Move Over Law.
Click here for a list of other Washington State laws that affect drivers
At Bill Coats Law, we help injured victims of car accidents get fair, full and fast compensation. We work on a contingency basis which means no client pays until we win. If you need help with your case, call Bellingham's top personal injury attorney.