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Monday, October 20, 2008

A "Move Over Law" Being Sought in MA After Trooper is Injured

The law would include tow truck drivers. Our best wishes for a quick recovery to Trooper Cresta. Here's the story from boston.com:
State Trooper Dana Cresta had no time to run. As he stood in the breakdown lane of the Massachusetts Turnpike, investigating a car crash early yesterday, a fast-moving 2008 Nissan Maxima careened into him. The impact sent Cresta through the Nissan's windshield.

The trooper survived, but he sustained serious injuries and was taken to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

The accident was a prime example of the dangers troopers face when they pull over to investigate crashes or make traffic stops. Now, some legislators have renewed calls for a state law that would require highway drivers to move out of the right lane when emergency vehicle lights are flashing.

State Representative Christine E. Canavan, a Brockton Democrat, said she has been sponsoring the legislation, called the "Move Over Law," because too many police officers and tow truck drivers are hurt or killed on the side of the highway every year by errant drivers.

"So many states do something and we don't," Canavan said yesterday.

Her proposal would require drivers on highways of two lanes or more to give wide berth to emergency vehicles parked on the roads with their lights flashing. Drivers would also be required to slow to speeds 20 miles per hour less than the posted speed limit, or face a ticket of at least $100.

Canavan said she has sponsored the legislation four times in eight years. Although she has never heard opposition to the measure, it has failed to win approval. She said her current bill is mired in a legislative committee, where it has been included in omnibus bills.

Forty-three states have passed similar laws, according to the group Move Over America, a coalition of national law enforcement agencies that advocate for the measure. Earlier this year, New Hampshire enacted the law, expanding it to include construction trucks with amber lights used by its Department of Transportation workers. Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, as well as Delaware, Hawaii, and Nebraska, are the only states, as well as Washington, D.C., that have not.

The Massachusetts Association of Chiefs of Police supports the Move Over America law. President A. Wayne Sampson laughed when asked whether he thought the Legislature would approve the measure.

"We're not aware of a single person opposed to it," he said.

Sampson said some research by national law enforcement groups has shown that drivers are sometimes mesmerized by the spinning lights on emergency vehicles and inadvertently drive toward them on the highway.

"People focus on the lights and the brighter they are, the more it distracts them," he said. "We have deep concerns for every officer that makes a moving stop at any time of day."

The Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, which oversees the State Police, also supports the legislation. Spokesman Terrell Harris said he did not have information on the number of police officers injured each year on highways, but the legislation is considered to be a benefit to police safety.

Harris said it is impossible to say whether the law would have prevented yesterday's crash. For one thing, the driver of Nissan was charged with drunk driving. For another, drivers don't always abide by traffic laws.

"Incidents like this are always discouraging to the people who try to keep us safe," Harris said. "But those people aren't going to let it stop them from going out and doing their jobs to the best of their ability."

The Towing and Recovery Association of America estimates that about 55 tow truck drivers are killed each year in the United States.

In Massachusetts, two tow truck drivers were killed in 2004 as they sat in the breakdown lane along Interstate 495 in Brockton.

Timothy Kelly, 23, of Bridgewater, and Jarrod Drew, 24, of Brockton, worked for A-1 Affordable Towing of West Bridgewater. Drew was there to help Kelly, whose truck had broken down on the highway.

As the two men worked in the breakdown lane shortly before dawn on Feb. 20, they were struck by Daniel Cummings, 21, of Raynham.

Cummings later pleaded guilty to two counts of motor vehicle homicide and was sentenced to four to five years in jail.

Yesterday's crash occurred shortly before 3 a.m. on the Mass. Pike in Newton. Cresta had been investigating an earlier crash; the occupants of that car had fled. He was struck by a Nissan driven by Patrick J. Sullivan, 23, of 84 Parker Road in Framingham.

Cresta sustained injuries to his head, face, legs, and ribs. Police described his condition as serious, but improving.

Sullivan was not injured. He was arrested and charged with operating under the influence, operating in a break down lane, and operating to endanger. He will be arraigned this week, State Police said.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this story.

Megan Woolhouse can be reached at mwoolhouse@globe.com.

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