HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - Tow truck drivers and police are highlighting the dangers on the road for first responders.
It comes after a collision involving a Huntsville police officer. The wreck left his squad car badly damaged and the officer with injuries.
It happened Monday night on Interstate 565 near Glenn Hearn.
The officer was blocking a lane for a previous traffic accident and a driver came around a curve and struck his patrol car. He was sitting inside working on paperwork at the time.
Joseph Abernathy is a Traffic Homicide Investigator for the Huntsville Police Department. He also handles crashes involving city vehicles, including the most recent accident involving the officer on the interstate.
"It's one of the most dangerous things we do in this job, especially on the interstate. Being on the side of the road, you're going to have traffic flying past you at 70-80 mph within just a few feet of your driver's side door. It's something in the back of our minds and something we need to think about. It has the potential to become a dangerous or deadly situation at any time," he explained.
William Shelt is a driver for Roadside Towing in Huntsville and one of the administrators of a Facebook group called Move Over United States. It has 10,000 members nationwide and its goal is to spread awareness of the Move Over Law.
"Move over if traffic allows you to move over. Give everybody room to work. Just be aware of the situation going on around you," Shelt said. "All emergency vehicles, police and fire, any of your emergency responders, highway DOT workers, even your sanitation department is classified as roadside assistance workers. Any kind of people who work alongside the roadways is who you're looking for."
Several of his friends have been killed in his line of work and he's been hit twice on the job.
"In the last two years, I've lost four people I've personally been connected with. There's nothing worse that you'd want to do than have to contact someone's family to tell them their loved one was killed on the side of the road loading a car," Shelt added. "I'm blessed because I've been hit twice and I've had minor injuries. But most people that get hit, they don't go home to their family that night."
He shared statistics about the death toll.
The Alabama Move Over Law states that if you're approaching a stopped emergency vehicle or a tow truck on the side of the road with their lights flashing, you are required to move over a lane to get away from that vehicle if it's practical and safe for you to do so.
Drivers who don't move over could receive a citation of $25 plus court costs. It could cost you more if you're a repeat offender. Advocates like Shelt are fighting for the fine to be increased to deter more drivers from violating the law.
"Awareness is the key thing. Everyone is so occupied with stuff in their vehicle and they're not paying attention," he stated.
Abernathy says the officer involved in the crash on Monday night suffered minor head injuries, and added that officers aren't always that lucky.
"Thankfully, the officer was not seriously injured. He was taken to the hospital with some bumps and bruises and has been released," he said. "If he had been out of his vehicle and he himself had been struck, this could have been a lot worse than it was. The Move Over Law just gives us extra safety and security while we're out there working on the highway."
What if you come up on flashing lights and you have a car next to you and you cant' get over right away? You're required to slow down to 15 mph under the posted speed limit.
HEMSI pointed out the gear their crews wear at work and how their ambulances are covered in lights for safety reasons.
"We light them up so the public can see them, make them visible so that people understand that this vehicle is stopped at a scene, a wreck, whatever. At the end of the day, they want to go home at the end of their shift. They want to go home to their families and they want to go home safe," said Don Webster, HEMSI's community relations office.
He too urged cooperation from drivers to keep everyone on the road out of harm's way.
"We need the community, the drivers to stay focused on the road with no distracted driving. If you see emergency vehicles ahead of you, you need to move over and slow down and yield to those emergency vehicles," Webster stated.
"You have to keep your head on a swivel," Shelt added.
The Madison County Sheriff’s Office shared information on Next Door with the public, stressing the importance of the Move Over law.