Motorist alert: Next time you see flashing lights ahead on the side of the road, you’d better move over if you want to avoid a $326 fine.

Maine State Police will soon start cracking down on motorists who fail to observe the state’s “move over” law after two recent crashes involving state police cruisers parked in breakdown lanes on the Maine Turnpike.

“We will set up periodic details in the weeks coming up, incorporate them into aircraft details and will be looking for violations,” Lt. Erik Baker said Saturday.

Baker, who is commander of Maine State Police Troop G, which patrols the entire length of the turnpike from the New Hampshire border to Augusta, said Maine has had a law since 2007 that requires motorists to move over into the next lane when they see flashing lights from emergency and highway safety vehicles and tow trucks, or slow down if that is not possible.

“Slow down and move over for them,” Baker said in a telephone interview.

The crackdown follows two accidents in just over a week when state police cruisers were rear-ended on the turnpike in New Gloucester while parked in the breakdown lane with their emergency lights activated.

Trooper John Davis was seriously injured when his Ford Explorer cruiser was struck from behind at 5 a.m. on Dec. 21 by a tractor-trailer traveling at a high speed at mile 70 while Davis was parked in the northbound breakdown lane between Gray and Auburn, state police said. The cruiser spun into the road and crashed into a guardrail. Davis was pinned inside.

Davis, a 17-year member of the state police, had responded to a report of two vehicles that slid off the road. Davis spent several days at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston recuperating from his injuries.

The truck driver, Aminder Munday, 28, of Westland, Michigan, who was transporting food to the Walmart distribution center in Lewiston in a truck owned by Michigan-based Northstar Carrier, was charged with aggravated driving to endanger, a felony.

Seven days later, Trooper Ryan Keller was injured while parked with his emergency lights flashing at almost the same spot as Davis the week before. Keller, who has been with the state police for 18 years, was pulled over to report on possible icing conditions on the turnpike when his Ford Explorer cruiser was struck about 5:30 p.m. Friday by a car driven by Nancy Colson, 22, of Topsham, pushing it into a guardrail, state police said.

Both Keller and Colson suffered bumps and bruises and were treated at Central Maine Medical Center. The cruiser was demolished.

All 50 states have move-over laws to protect state troopers and others who spend time in the breakdown lanes.

Maine’s law requires the operator of a vehicle passing a stationary authorized emergency vehicle with flashing lights – including firetrucks, police vehicles, ambulances, wreckers and highway safety vehicles – to move over into an adjacent lane if possible, and if not, to pass at a safe and “prudent” speed.

Baker said public safety workers are at risk in the breakdown lane.

“The traffic rocks your entire vehicle,” he said.

State police have stepped up enforcement of the move-over law before. After six accidents in a month and a half involving cruisers between December 2013 and mid-January 2014, police started videotaping drivers in the act of violating the move-over law.

“It is hard for me to believe that most of the general public does not understand it is a law,” Baker said.

Baker said Troop G will soon set up periodic details, posting a second trooper near another cruiser pulled over with flashing lights for a normal traffic stop in the breakdown lane.

Baker said he was unaware of any trooper fatality in Maine because of crashes into parked cruisers, but a turnpike worker was killed in a construction zone in January 2017. Jeffrey Abbott, 53, of Saco died when he was struck by a tractor-trailer, which also struck two vehicles slowed for construction ahead of it. Abbott had left the cab of a Maine Turnpike Authority safety vehicle to remove traffic cones on the northbound side of the highway near Exit 48 in Portland.

Baker said he would not know until Monday whether Colson would be cited under the move-over law or face other charges. The investigation is looking at mitigating factors, such as icy conditions, that may have contributed to the crash.

 


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