On a Sunday night in December 2017, a police officer was standing outside of his cruiser on Route 202 in Chester County, Pa., writing a traffic citation.
Meanwhile, a passing car driven by a 67-year-old Maryland man sideswiped the cruiser and sped away, according to the Daily Local News. The patrolman had the presence of mind to jump out of the way and narrowly avoid being hit.
Since 2006, Pennsylvania’s Steer Clear Law has been on the books to protect police and other emergency service responders from situations such as the one in Chester County. The list of people also protected by the law includes firefighters, fire police, rescue and emergency medical personnel, tow truck operators, and highway construction workers.
The Steer Clear Law “requires drivers to move over or slow down when they encounter an emergency scene, traffic stop or disabled vehicle,” according to the Pennsylvania State Police.
Motorists are required to move into a lane that isn’t adjacent to an emergency response area. If that isn’t possible because of traffic or other conditions, drivers must reduce their speed.
Failing to move over or slow down can result in a $250 fine. In addition, fines are doubled if they occur in work zones; if a worker is injured because of a violation, the motorist could face a 90-day license suspension.
Law toughened in 2017
The Steer Clear Law got tougher thanks to legislation passed in 2017. Fines jump to $500 for a second offense and $1,000 for a third or subsequent offense. A loss of driving privileges occurs if serious bodily injury or death occurs during a third offense.
In Kennett Township, Chester County, police are trying to avoid dangerous roadside situations altogether: officers have switched to issuing electronic citations.
“Our officers are trained to position their vehicles in a way to protect themselves,” said Kennett Township police chief Lydell Nolt, “but unfortunately sometimes there is not much they can do.”
ACCOMMODATING EMERGENCY VEHICLES AND SITUATIONS
When you hear a siren or see a vehicle approaching from any direction with flashing red lights or a combination of red and blue lights, you must:
• Pull over to the curb or side of the road and stop;
• Drive parallel and as near to the curb as possible. On one-way streets, drive toward the nearest roadside and stop;
• Stay clear of intersections;
• Start driving again after the emergency vehicle passes you, keeping at least 500 feet away from it;
• Make sure another emergency vehicle isn’t coming.
Source: Pennsylvania Driver’s Manual