Move over for Emergency Responders; their lives depend on you

Vehicles slow down to a crawl and move well over when passing emergency services vehicles to allow responders to work safely. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

Have you noticed drivers failing to move over when passing an emergency services vehicle, such as a police car that is stopped on the shoulder? If so you are not alone.

Ahead of another busy long weekend on highways and roads, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) are reminding drivers that paying attention to what’s happening on the roadside is just as important as keeping an eye on the road. According to a release OPP, despite Ontario’s ‘Move Over’ law heading into its 20th year, every year, hundreds of drivers ignore this law and deny police and other emergency personnel the safe space they need to carry out their duties on the roadside. 

Also known as Section 159 of the province’s Highway Traffic Act, the Move Over law in Ontario states that drivers are required to slow down and move over to another lane when they approach emergency vehicles with flashing lights. Emergency vehicles under this law include tow trucks, fire trucks, police cars, public utility vehicles, and ambulances.

This law is important because it protects first responders and emergency workers on the side of the road. Since 1989, five OPP officers have been killed while on duty on the roadside after their vehicles were struck by approaching vehicles.

Acting OPP Sergeant Erin Cranton notes in an email, “In 2022, the East Region OPP laid 218 charges against drivers who were in a position to, but failed to, slow down and move over a lane (where safe to do so) when approaching emergency vehicles with their emergency lights activated. Officers in East Region have laid approximately 120 such charges so far this year.”

According to police, in 2022, the OPP laid 846 charges across the province against drivers who failed to comply with the law when approaching emergency vehicles with their emergency lights activated. The OPP have laid more than 600 such charges so far this year.

The Ministry of Transportation website instructs drivers, “When approaching a stopped emergency vehicle, slow down and pass with caution. If a road has two or more lanes, you must leave a lane of space between you and the emergency vehicle, if you can do so safely.”

Ontario’s Move Over law carries a $490 to $2,000 fine, plus three demerit points upon conviction. Subsequent offences carry a $1,000 to $4,000 fine, possible jail time of up to six months, and a driver’s licence suspension for up to two years.

Over and above watching for drivers who fail to comply with a law designed to make roadside emergency responders’ jobs safer, the OPP shared that they will be “working around the clock, ensuring motorists are driving attentively and within the posted speed limit, are not impaired by alcohol/drugs and that all vehicle occupants are buckled up.” 

So far this year, the OPP has responded to 188 fatal roadway collisions in which 205 people lost their lives (up 15 per cent over this time last year).

Further, drivers who don’t move over and allow moving emergency vehicles the right of way can also be charged for impeding their progress.

When an emergency vehicle approaches you from any direction the Ministry dictates you should follow these steps to allow the vehicle to pass by:

  • Slow down
  • Signal
  • Move to the right side of the road, clear of any intersection
  • Stop.
  • When the emergency vehicle has passed, check to make sure the way is clear and signal before merging back into traffic

There may be situations where you will need to move your vehicle out of the way. For instance:

  • On highways, pull as close as you can to the right side of the road, but don’t drive on to or block the shoulder lane.
  • In an intersection, do not make a left turn. Proceed straight through and then pull to the right and stop.
  • On a one-way street, you can pull to the left side of the road if you are unable to move to the right.

It is also illegal to follow within 150 metres of a fire vehicle or ambulance responding to a call.

Drivers can face stiff penalties and be charged if they do not slow down or move over when it is safe to do so. A First offence includes fines ranging from $400 to $2,000, three demerit points if convicted, and a possible suspension of driver’s licence for up to 2 years.

Subsequent offences (within five years) include fines of up to $4,000, three demerit points if convicted, possible jail time of up to six months, and possible suspension of driver’s licence for up to two years.

“Road users are reminded that these measures can go a long way towards making it a zero fatality/injury long weekend that has everyone getting to and from their destination safely!” the provincial police service implored. 

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