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Ontarians missing the mark on life-saving move

Long weekend blitz sees 500-plus vehicles pulled over for not moving over for emergency vehicles; 2015 saw the OPP along give tickets to more than 2,000 drivers

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

It is a simple step, one that could possibly save a life. However, Ontario Provincial Police are slapping the wrists of Ontarians who are not getting the point.

Provincial law requiring drivers to slow down and move over on highways for police and emergency vehicles has been in place sine 2003, and was most recently updated in September 2015 to include tow-trucks under its purview.

However, last year saw the OPP handing out 2,031 tickets for drivers who failed to move over, the second highest year on record – 2008 saw 2,800 charges laid.

Over the August long weekend, the provincial police force launched a crackdown campaign that pulled over more than 500 vehicles for failing to move over.

Why are drivers not getting the message?

For Sgt. Kerry Schmidt with the OPP’s Highway Safety Division, it is not a problem with awareness.

“It’s been in place for many years, over a decade…I think people know, but they think that they don’t cause a threat,” he says.

Yet, since 1989, five police officers have been killed during roadside stops.

“Even more people have been hurt and injured in collisions,” Schmidt says, admitting he has had several close calls himself.

“I’m getting out of my vehicle and there’s a transport truck within a couple inches of me,” he says.

“I haven’t been hit, but many times I’ve been able to reach out and touch a vehicle as it speeds by me. One foot over and it would take me out.”

Schmidt may have avoided a collision, but in separate incidents investigated by the OPP in 2015, six OPP cruisers, a separate police force vehicle, three ambulances and a two trucks were all struck while responding on the shoulder of a highway. All drivers responsible were charged under the Move Over law, a fine which ranges between $400 and $2,000, along with three demerit points.

“We need everybody to do their part and spread the message, and spread the word and set the example,” Schmidt says.

This buffer created by vehicles moving away from accidents or other highway incidents, is critical to allow police and emergency responder to do their jobs, Schmidt says.

“They’re focusing on the emergency at hand…if we’re constantly checking our back, we can’t do our jobs nearly as quick and efficiently as we would if we had that confidence that drivers were slowing down and were giving us space to do our jobs,” he says.

“That’s our workplace, that’s our office and we want to be safe just like everybody else.”