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Emergency responders support 'Steer Clear' law

| Thursday, Sept. 7, 2006

"Long overdue" is the phrase local emergency responders are using to describe a new law that takes effect tomorrow.

Beginning Friday, motorists are required to move to the opposite lane of traffic, or slow down when driving past an "emergency response area" along the roadway.

State Police Lt. Tom Dubovi, East Franklin station commander, said the new law allows police to fine motorists up to $250 if they fail to obey the rules.

"Common sense would tell you that if you come upon an accident scene or construction crew that you should move over, or at least slow down to avoid causing an accident," he said. "The problem is, many drivers don't comprehend what the flashing lights are for when they see them."

The law, being called the "Steer Clear" law, requires drivers to move over to "pass in a lane not adjacent to the emergency response area, or, if that is not possible, pass at a careful and prudent reduced speed."

Larry Martin, manager for Kittanning Hose Co. 6 Ambulance Service, said many of the ambulance personnel have had close calls with drivers over the years.

"It's always a concern and we have tried to make our personnel as visible as possible so they can be seen," Martin said. "Our personnel wear uniforms that are reflective so that drivers can see them, especially at night."

Emergency personnel have been using one tactic for several years to help them avoid being struck by vehicles: parking their fire trucks and ambulances around the scene to block the area where they are performing their tasks.

Bill Douglas, assistant fire chief for Rayburn Township Fire Department, said, "If we have to, we just block the entire roadway."

"We understand that people have to get where they are going and that sometimes our trucks are causing them to be delayed, but they need to understand that we are out there because someone's life is in danger," he said. "We try to get traffic flowing as quickly as possible, but we will only allow traffic to move once we determine it is safe to do so."

All three agreed that the law is one that should have been on the books well before now and hope that motorists will finally start to pay more attention to emergency responders.

Under the law, violating drivers can be fined up to $250 and can have their license suspended for 90 days. Also, drivers can face double fines if they violate any of 19 different traffic laws associated with emergency response scenes.

According to the state police statistics, three troopers have died since 1999 as a result of being struck by motorists passing accident scenes or traffic stops. Also, between January 2005 and March 2006, passing motorists have run into marked police cruisers "with emergency lights operating" 38 times.

Locally. no emergency responders have been injured or killed along the roadways, Dubovi said. For more information about the law, contact state police at 724-543-2011.

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