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The Washington State Patrol is reminding drivers that state law requires them to slow down, and move left if safe, when passing emergency vehicles stopped beside the roadway.
Emergency vehicles include police cars, fire trucks, ambulances, tow trucks and highway maintenance vehicles with emergency lights activated.
The law went into effect in 2011, after a series of incidents involving not only police cars, but other emergency vehicles and the death of a tow truck driver.
“This law couldn’t be easier to comply with,” said State Patrol Chief John R. Batiste. “All you have to do is ease off the gas and, if it’s safe, ease to the left.”
Batiste added a caution, however, about sudden maneuvers intended to comply with the law. He stressed that simply slowing down and easing left is sufficient.
“We don’t want people making sudden maneuvers that could be even more dangerous,” he said.
Since the law went into effect, State Troopers have contacted more than 10,000 violators using a mix of education and enforcement to win compliance. Troopers report that most drivers understand the reason for the law once it’s explained to them.
Although failure to move left is a traffic violation, if the behavior is egregious enough to endanger emergency workers the conduct becomes criminal, and can result in a jail sentence.
Over the next few weeks, troopers statewide will be making an extra effort to contact violators they might observe in the course of other routine work.
“We’ve asked them to keep a watchful eye on their fellow emergency workers, and take action when they observe a violation,” Batiste said.