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Maryland’s Motorist Move-Over Law

I am proud to be a defense attorney and I never let myself lose sight of the fact that when an officer puts on his or her uniform, she or he is choosing to carry the power of the State of Maryland (whether hired by the State or by a local government) in a way that can inflict damage on my clients. Accordingly, I play for Team Client and Team Freedom, not for Team Government, and I never let myself forget what uniform I wear when I am on the courtroom field.

Nonetheless, reasonable people have to fact the fact that law enforcement officers – the heroic, brave and dedicated and the corrupt, abusive and oppressive alike – face a lot of hazards in their work. The rates of alcoholism and other dysfunctional issues and factors are higher among law enforcement officers than among the general public; this they have in common with attorneys to a large extent.

One of the most dangerous things that a law enforcement officer can do is to initiate a motor vehicle stop or otherwise to stop at the scene of a traffic incident. Pulling over motorists is a Forrest Gump “box of chocolates” event: you never know what you are going to get. An officer responding to a scene or initiating a stop might find people cranked out on drugs, smuggling goods, delivering weaponry or other contraband, leaving a crime scene, making their way to create a crime scene or hiding a dead body in the trunk. In addition to those hazards, a law enforcement officer almost always must conduct a stop very near on-coming traffic, often on a road shoulder that is poorly designed to accommodate both a stopped squad car and a walking pedestrian alongside it to reach a stopped motorist or a chaotic accident scene with multiple cars at oblique angles to the roadway.

Maryland was one of the last states to pass a “Move-Over” law requiring motorists to shift lanes away from emergency vehicles. I recall researching the issue a little over a year ago or so for a client; most states had passed one but Maryland, by that date, did not have such a statute in force. Maryland’s General Assembly passed such a law in 2010, i.e. it is law NOW, but the law did not gain much publicity. In open court, the Honorable Gary Bass, Judge of the District Court for Baltimore City, commented that he noticed that the law had not gotten much press in the Baltimore City media. The relative lack of coverage may have had roots in the fact that Baltimore has relative few road where compliance would be easy (i.e. most roads are narrow within the City limits, with few Interstate or other wide-highway miles for the population compared with e.g. Howard County), though that’s a conjecture on my part.

The statute covers all emergency response vehicles – police, fire, EMT and all other emergency vehicles – and basically requires that if moving one lane over from an incident is possible and safe, motorists must do so, amoing other requirements. Please take a look at the entirety of the code section below if you drive in Maryland; the law is about 99% common sense and it deserves motorists’ respect and commands the force of law in any event.

§ 21-405. Operation of vehicles on approach of emergency vehicles.

(a) In general.- On the immediate approach of an emergency vehicle using audible and visual signals that meet the requirements of § 22-218 of this article or of a police vehicle lawfully using an audible signal, the driver of every other vehicle, unless otherwise directed by a police officer, shall yield the right-of-way.

(b) Duty of driver upon approach of emergency vehicle.- On the immediate approach of an emergency vehicle using audible and visual signals that meet the requirements of § 22-218 of this article or of a police vehicle lawfully using an audible signal, the driver of every other vehicle, unless otherwise directed by a police officer, shall drive immediately to a position parallel to and as close as possible to the edge or curb of the roadway, clear of any intersection.

(c) Stopping until emergency vehicle passes.- On the immediate approach of an emergency vehicle using audible and visual signals that meet the requirements of § 22-218 of this article or of a police vehicle lawfully using an audible signal, the driver of every other vehicle, unless otherwise directed by a police officer, shall stop and stay in this position until the emergency vehicle has passed.

(d) Passing emergency or police vehicle.- A driver, when proceeding in the same direction as an emergency or police vehicle, may not pass an emergency vehicle using audible and visual signals that meet the requirements of § 22-218 of this article or a police vehicle lawfully using an audible signal unless:

  • (1) The emergency vehicle has stopped; or
  • (2) Otherwise directed by a police officer.

(e) Duty of driver upon approach of emergency vehicle on highway.- Unless otherwise directed by a police officer or a traffic control device, when an emergency vehicle using any visual signal that meets the requirements of § 22-218 of this article is stopped, standing, or parked on a highway, the driver of a motor vehicle approaching the emergency vehicle from the rear shall:

  • (1) If practicable and not otherwise prohibited, make a lane change into an available lane not immediately adjacent to the emergency vehicle with due regard for safety and traffic conditions; or
  • (2) If the driver of the motor vehicle is unable to make a lane change in accordance with item (1) of this subsection, slow to a reasonable and prudent speed that is safe for existing weather, road, and vehicular or pedestrian traffic conditions.

(f) Driver of emergency vehicle not relieved from duty of care.- This section does not relieve the driver of an emergency vehicle from the duty to drive with due regard for the safety of all persons.

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