It seems like common sense to pull over to the side of the road when we hear a siren, or we see those flashing lights in our rearview mirror. But the Move Over laws in Washington state are actually a little more complicated than you might think. The law does not simply require you to slow down and move over for the myriad of emergency vehicles; it also mandates several requirements for drivers when they are approaching and entering areas with emergency or work zones.
What is the Move Over law in Washington state?
Here’s what the Move Over law –Revised Code of Washington 46.61.212 – actually says:
- The driver of any motor vehicle, upon approaching an emergency or work zone, shall:
- On a highway having four or more lanes, at least two of which are intended for traffic proceeding in the same direction as the approaching vehicle, proceed with caution and, if the opportunity exists, with due regard for safety and traffic conditions, yield the right-of-way by making a lane change or moving away from the lane or shoulder occupied by an emergency or work zone vehicle identified in subsection (1) of this section;
- On a highway having less than four lanes, proceed with caution, reduce the speed of the vehicle, and, if the opportunity exists, with due regard for safety and traffic conditions, and under the rules of this chapter, yield the right-of-way by passing to the left at a safe distance and simultaneously yield the right-of-way to all vehicles traveling in the proper direction upon the highway; or
- If changing lanes or moving away would be unsafe, proceed with due caution and reduce the speed of the vehicle to at least ten miles per hour below the posted speed limit.
- A person may not drive a vehicle in an emergency or work zone at a speed greater than the posted speed limit or greater than what is permitted under subsection (2)(c) of this section.
Not exactly easy reading. So what does the law state in layman’s terms?
Not only must you pull over to the side of the road slowly and carefully when emergency vehicles such as police cars and ambulances approach with their lights flashing, but you must also do the same for work vehicles with flashing lights as well. Also included in the law: you must follow the stated speed limit in a work zone; and when unable to pull over and stop due to unsafe conditions, proceed cautiously at ten miles an hour below the speed limit.
So what’s included in the categories of emergency and work vehicles? It’s important to know what vehicles to yield for and give the right of way to when we’re out driving.
How does Washington State define “emergency” and “work” vehicles?
First, let’s define “emergency vehicles.” Sounds simple enough, but there’s a wide array of vehicles included in that list. It’s not only ambulances, fire trucks, and police vehicles, though those are very important members of the list. “It includes any vehicle of a fire department, police department, sheriff’s office, coroner, prosecuting attorney, Washington State Patrol, and public or private ambulance service.” And that’s simply emergency vehicles.
What about work vehicles? When those vehicles have their flashing lights on, it’s important to yield to them as well. That list includes “[T]ow trucks, other vehicles providing roadside assistance, police vehicles, highway maintenance and service equipment, snow removal equipment, and stationary or slow moving highway construction vehicles, highway maintenance vehicles, solid waste vehicles and utility service vehicles.”
There are a tremendous number of vehicles we need to keep an eye out for, and know exactly what to do when we see their lights flashing in the road. One might think that it is good enough to slow down and move over when you see an emergency vehicle speeding down the road, but to overlook work vehicles would be a grave mistake. Since December 2020, four tow truck drivers have been hit while working on the side of the road in Washington state, and two of those who were hit tragically died. Far more than that have had close calls, nearly getting hit while trying to help those drivers who are simply trying to get home. Work vehicles need as much room as emergency vehicles.
Being safe in unsafe conditions
Driving is a risky business to begin with, but there are several other factors that can increase that risk, and increase the risk of endangering others such as tow truck drivers or drivers of other emergency or work vehicles. Sometimes the road conditions or other factors keep us from being able to maneuver the road safely. Often, those “factors” are other drivers being reckless.
According to KGW8, “U.S. traffic deaths in the first quarter of 2021 rose by 10.5% over last year, even as driving has declined” due to increased risks that drivers were taking such as driving while intoxicated and speeding. This can make it harder to do the right thing as a driver, in or out of a work zone or emergency area.
The laws of the road are put there to keep those who are driving on it, and those who must work on it, safe. Stick to the speed limit, follow the directions in any warning signs, and make sure your windshield wiper fluid is topped off as well. Even keeping a spare pair of sunglasses in the car could prove beneficial. Anything that could increase your range and clarity of view is important not only to your own health and safety, but everyone around you.
Not only is being able to see clearly important, but limiting the number of distractions is also critical. Stay off your phone while driving. No text or call is worth someone’s life. If you need to mind your kids in the back seat, wait until you can pull over safely to do so. Eating or drinking something? Put it down while driving through a work-zone.
What about when the weather conditions aren’t so great? Reassess whether you need to go out right then, or if it can wait until the roads are cleared up and safe. If you are already out in unsafe conditions, make sure you can analyze the roads and your driving environment well. If you can’t, turn on your hazards and pull over someplace safe, or you could be the person in need of that emergency vehicle.
Washington state’s Move Over law is an important one. It may seem obvious, but it’s critical to take it seriously, not only to keep you from getting a ticket, but also to save the lives of others. If you’ve been in a car accident concerning the Pull Over law, call the Philbrook Law Office at 360.695.3309 or fill out our contact form to set up a consultation at one of our offices located in Vancouver and Battle Ground, Washington. We also serve the greater Portland, Oregon area. Personal injury consultations are free.
Founding Attorney Matthew Philbrook attended Clark College, Washington State University, and Gonzaga University School of Law. He is a member of the Washington State and Oregon State Bar Associations and started Philbrook Law Office in 2005. He specializes in Personal Injury, DUI and Criminal Defense cases. Learn more about Mr. Philbrook.