The new "Move Over" law requires motorists to either steer away from police and other emergency vehicles stopped on the side of the road, or, if that's not possible, slow down and pass cautiously.
James W. Stevenson thinks that's a good idea.
Not that it was much help to him.
The Elma volunteer firefighter was directing traffic around an accident on Route 400 during a snowstorm Tuesday night, when a car traveling too fast for weather conditions lost control and slammed into him.
"I seen it coming, and I wasn't able to run to the side of the road because my rescue truck was there," he said. "I didn't want to get crushed between the two vehicles, so I tried jumping up as I high as I could."
That's about all Stevenson remembers.
It was only after the accident, that the 41-year-old Stevenson said he learned of the new law, which had taken effect two days earlier on New Year's Day.
"They should have had this law a long time ago," said Stevenson, a Spring Brook Volunteer Fire Company member. "My 11-year-old daughter heard I'd been hit by a car that night and she was very distraught. I look at life differently now."
He is at home recovering from injuries to his left hip and back. A volunteer firefighter of 25 years, he says he does not know when he will be able to return to work as a phlebotomist.
Every day in the Buffalo Niagara region, hundreds of police-related traffic stops and responses to motor vehicle accidents occur, requiring officers to get out of their vehicles as other vehicles zoom past them.
The consequences can be deadly.
That's why the State Legislature put the "Move Over" act on the books. It was in response to the deaths of two police officers killed in the line of duty on the state's roads.
State Trooper Robert Ambrose burned to death in his police vehicle after it was rear ended by a drunken driver traveling 80 mph in a sport utility vehicle.
Onondaga County Sheriff's Deputy Glenn Searles was killed when he was pinned against his patrol vehicle after he had gotten out of it to assist a stranded motorist.
Area police say the new law is necessary.
It carries a two-point penalty for convictions and a graduated set of fines and possible jail time, though police add that common sense dictates drivers should instinctively know they should move over and slow down when approaching an emergency situation.
But with more drivers multitasking behind the wheel -- talking on cell phones or illegally texting -- distractions have become more commonplace.
Still, police say that's no excuse not to slow down.
"The law is one more tool to draw drivers' attention to what is most likely a hazardous situation up ahead of them, and it is not just for the police officers' safety but for their own safety," said Trooper Daniel Golinski, who is assigned to patrol local sections of the Thruway.
>Enforcing the law
A trooper of 22 years, Golinski has seen many state police vehicles that have been rear ended while parked at traffic enforcement stops and accident scenes.
And while he acknowledges that it could be tough to enforce the new law, Golinski said police will make every effort to catch motorists who disobey it.
"If there is a second officer at the scene, he can pursue, or if the trooper is just finishing up and is in his vehicle, he's in a good situation to pursue," Golinski said.
Officers also can take down license plate numbers, said Amherst Traffic Capt. Patrick M. McKenna, who was rear-ended by a drunken driver a number of years ago when he was stopped at a traffic light.
Even if the vehicle's owner denies he or she was behind the wheel, Kennedy said, a point still can be made.
"At the very least, we could give a warning by saying 'How about doing something different in the future?' "
The law puts into words what should be common sense behavior, said North Tonawanda Police Capt. Roger Zgolak.
"Give a little buffer of safety, whether it's for an officer or a civilian," Zgolak said. "Traffic enforcement and responding to accidents is a big part of our job."
>Driver to be charged
And while officers who are working on the side of the road may not acknowledge passing motorists who give them a wide berth, they are grateful, according to West Seneca Police Capt. Bob Sporysz.
"I've had close calls on Route 219 with vehicles spinning out of control" Sporysz said. "We are definitely appreciative of people who slow down or get in the lane farthest away from the stop."
It can be trying on the nerves, he adds, when an officer is talking to a motorist on a traffic stop or in the process of clearing an accident scene and vehicles are passing at "55 miles per hour and they're 24 inches away from you."
As for Stevenson, the Spring Brook firefighter, Erie County sheriff's deputies have completed their investigation and will charge the driver under the new law, Traffic Sgt. Joe Belden said Friday.
Kyle Patterson, 21, of Buffalo, already has been charged with driving at an unreasonable speed for conditions, failure to keep right and failure to exercise care.
>Deputy's cruiser hit
Patterson is not the only local motorist to face charges under the new law. At noon Thursday, a North Tonawanda woman allegedly violated the law when she hit a Niagara County Sheriff's Office cruiser pulled over for a traffic stop on Robinson Road.
Linda M. Brandel, 50, was charged with a violation of "move over," leaving the scene of a motor vehicle accident, moving from lane unsafely, speed imprudent for emergency situation and driving while ability impaired by drugs.
At the time of the crash, the emergency lights were activated on Deputy Sean Furey's patrol vehicle, officials said. Furey chased Brandel for about one mile before the suspect pulled over, authorities said.
Stevenson said he has some heart felt advice for motorists regarding the new law:
"Slow down, watch the road and move over."
Howthe law affects drivers
The state's new Move Over law is designed to protect emergency personnel.
Drivers must move over a lane when possible to make room for emergency vehicles stopped along the road.
If there is no extra lane to shift to, drivers must slow down and pass with caution.
• 2 points on the driver's license.
• 1st offense: $150 fine and/or up to 15 days jail.
• 2nd offense within 18 months: Up to $300 fine and/or up to 45 days in jail.
• 3rd offense within 18 months: Up to $450 fine and/or up to 90 days in jail.