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What To Do When You See Flashing Lights

All 50 states have some form of move-over law among their statutes; these laws are essentially designed to reduce aggressive driving.

According to a poll sponsored by the National Safety Commission, 86 percent of drivers are in favor of these laws; additionally, 90 percent of drivers believe that traffic stops are dangerous for police officers and other first responders. Curiously, also according to the poll, 71 percent of drivers had never heard of move-over laws.

Although Florida enacted a version of the law in 2002, a passing motorist struck and killed a 23-year-old Broward County Sheriff’s deputy during a traffic stop on Interstate 395 in 2006.

Aggressive Driving in Florida

These incidents are often in the headlines. Just recently, not far from Daytona Beach, a 63-year-old man was charged with second degree murder following a road rage incident that involved himself and a 44-year-old man. According to police and witnesses, after the two had been cutting each other off in traffic for several miles, there was a rear-end collision near an intersection.

The 44-year-old man exited his vehicle and started walking towards the other car; allegedly, the man reached behind his back, gestured at the other driver, and said “I got something for you.” The 63-year-old man, who said he reasonably feared for his safety, shot and killed the other man with a single bullet to the chest.

The defendant now maintains that his act was legally justified under Florida law, which states that, in some cases, an actor does not have a duty to retreat before using deadly force in self-defense. Some witnesses, who describe the 44-year-old man as non-threatening, dispute this version of events; a prosecutor characterized the incident as “the senseless murder of an unarmed individual.” Both drivers were legally intoxicated.

The Move-Over Law

Section 316.126 of the Florida Statutes does not apply in the above situation, but it is designed to address the same type of behavior. Florida’s move-over law applies in four situations:

  • An emergency vehicle, such as a police car or ambulance, that is operating in urgent response mode, which means either the siren is on or the emergency lights are flashing;
  • Sanitation vehicles providing sanitation services;
  • Tow trucks with their amber lights flashing that are recovering or loading vehicles on the roadside; and
  • Utility vehicles providing utility services.

In these situations, drivers must either “vacate the lane closest to the emergency vehicle, sanitation vehicle, utility service vehicle, or wrecker,” or reduce their speeds to at least 20 mph below the posted speed limit.

The enforcement provision is very subjective. Drivers must slow down or change lanes “upon immediate approach” to emergency vehicles and may resume normal driving habits “until the authorized emergency vehicle has passed,” but neither of these phrases are defined. Theoretically, a driver could not move over fast enough to satisfy the officer, who could then issue a 316.126 citation.

Traffic violations are “infractions” in Florida, meaning that some of the protections afforded to defendants in criminal matters do not apply in traffic court. For example, the state has the power to impose a civil penalty of at least $500.

Reach Out to Zealous Attorneys

Criminal and traffic laws in the Sunshine State are very complicated. For an aggressive defense in either of these venues, contact the Port St. Lucie attorneys at Eighmie Law Firm, P.A. We routinely represent individuals in Lucie County and nearby jurisdictions.

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