CLEVELAND — It’s the law in all 50 states and, yet, drivers violate it far too often. For those whose workplaces include the state’s roadways, the tragic death of a Cleveland firefighter on Saturday is a solemn reminder of Ohio’s Move Over, Slow Down law and why it’s needed.
A 40-year-old man accused of hitting and killing Cleveland Firefighter Johnny Tetrick in a hit-skip crash on I-90 Saturday night is being held on a $500,000 bond. The suspect, Leander Bissell, faces charges of aggravated vehicular homicide and hit-skip after allegedly striking Tetrick, a veteran firefighter, who was rendering aid to another motorist who had crashed.
Ohio’s move over law has been on the books since 1999 and was expanded in 2013 to include every “stationary vehicle with flashing lights.” In addition to first responders, the law is designed to protect construction, maintenance, utility and towing crews that are operating on the side of the road.
The law requires motorists to move over at least one lane upon seeing emergency lights on the side of the roadway. In the event that drivers cannot safely move over, the law requires them to significantly reduce their speed.
“Simply put, Ohio’s Move Over law is in place to keep everyone safe,” said OSHP Sgt. Ray Santiago. “It’s a simple ask if you really stop and think about it. It’s not just the law; it should be just the right thing to do. We all have many titles: Trooper, law enforcement officer, firefighter, EMT. But our titles are far more important when they are at home: Father, mother, son, daughter.”
Dave Vaughn Sr., who has operated Vaughn’s Towing in Amherst for more than 40 years, said other drivers violating the move over law has essentially become a daily hazard. He and his son, Dave Vaughn Jr., have had countless close calls over the years and were recently struck by another motorist while working off Route 2 in Lorain County.
“I’ve seen people that just don’t move over. They just don’t care about their lives as long as they can see that cell phone or whatever it is they are doing instead of watching us,” Vaughn Sr. said. “You don’t know if you’re going to go home. You want to. We all have families we want to go home to. And these people just make it miserable. It’s a day to day thing almost anymore.”
The Vaughns aren’t ones to speak in hyperbole and, instead, speak from experience and observation. Even while recovering and towing vehicles from protected crash scenes, drivers will disregard the police officers and firefighters directing traffic, Vaughn Jr. said.
“When we’re on the side of the road and trying to work, [the flashing lights are] the only protection that we have. That’s it,” Vaughn Jr. said. “It’s a shame that you have to worry about whether you’re going to go home at night.”
According to Ohio State Highway Patrol data, there have been 11,357 move over incidents, which can include crashes, citations and traffic stops, related to the state’s move over law since January 2020. That averages out to be nearly 11 incidents state wide every single day.
Most troubling is what that figure represents, Sgt. Santiago said.
“What sticks out is the volume, the sheer volume. When you’re talking about over 11,000 instances since 2020, each one of those represents an opportunity for a tragedy to have happened,” Sgt. Santiago said. “[The death of Cleveland firefighter Johnny Tetrick] is a tragic reminder of why this law is in place. When it is violated, more often than not it leads to serious injury or death.”
Although the highway patrol and other law enforcement agencies have had concerted enforcement campaigns in the past, the Vaughns believe more aggressive enforcement of the move over law is sorely needed. Additionally, the Vaughns said the penalties need to be strengthened for those that violate it.
“Until they start really pushing this and enforcing it more than they are, it’s going to continue. People are going to continue to die,” Vaughn Sr. said. “Pay attention and move over. Those lights are there for a reason. They aren’t there for your enjoyment.”