Had Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant Josh Brumbaugh not been paying attention, he would be dead. Brumbaugh found himself in this situation, not once, but twice when drivers who had not moved over a lane weren’t paying attention and almost hit him on the side of the road.
Law enforcement and first responders stopping on road shoulders is common, and, in certain areas, dangerous. The law is simple: when motorists see flashing blue, red and amber lights, they are expected to move one lane over from that shoulder, or pass by slowly. Yet many drivers don’t abide by this law, and first responders’ lives are put at risk.
“It’s not that law enforcement is trying to find another reason to write people a ticket,” Brumbaugh said. “It truly is a matter of life or death.”
Brumbaugh remembers three incidents where he was hit or nearly hit on the side of the road. One, a year and a half ago, happened on the side of Route 7. Brumbaugh had just completed a traffic stop and was finishing paperwork on his cruiser when he looked in his rearview mirror and saw a car coming up behind him fast. He put his car in drive and took off in time to avoid being hit.
The driver realized he was on the shoulder, swerved and crossed two lanes of traffic and almost caused an accident, Brumbaugh said. He pulled the car over and asked why the driver didn’t move a lane over. The driver said he’d dropped his cigarette and was trying to pick it up and hadn’t noticed he had drifted.
“He had to be going well over 70 miles per hour, so if he had hit me, if I hadn’t looked up, he most likely would have killed us both,” Brumbaugh said.
Another time, he was sitting in his cruiser behind a disabled vehicle, waiting for a tow truck to arrive when he was hit from behind. The car broke his back axle and also scratched the side of the cruiser. Had he been standing beside his vehicle instead of sitting inside it, he would be dead.
Again, the driver had been distracted. Brumbaugh said that the crash happened late at night with no one else on the road, so the driver could have easily moved over a lane. But she was so lost in thought, she didn’t even see his lights, he said.
The final incident that sticks out in Brumbaugh’s mind also happened on Route 7, this time westbound near Leesburg. He was walking back to his cruiser during a traffic stop and a car started drifting toward him. When she passed, there was about six inches between her car and his cruiser. Brumbaugh had to slide across the hood of his car to avoid being hit.
He pulled her over and asked her why she didn’t move over a lane since they were clear. She said she didn’t know she had to do that.
“They don’t realize the dangers of not moving over, not just for police, but also for fire and rescue and tow truck drivers and road workers. Anytime you see that, there’s a danger to all of those individuals,” Brumbaugh said.
Move Over Month is well underway with Virginia law enforcement agencies, fire departments, EMS and the Virginia Department of Transportation participating in the campaign to raise awareness and compliance with this state law. The law was created in 2002 to protect all law enforcement, firefighters and rescue/EMS. Then in 2010, it was expanded to amber lights, which includes VDOT safety services patrollers, highway maintenance crews and wrecker drivers.
Some of the most dangerous roads for first responders include Route 7, Route 28 and the Greenway where cars move at faster speeds, LCSO Public Information Officer Aleksandra Kowalski said.
For those that don’t comply with the law, violations can include fines and points on a driving record. If not moving over or slowing down causes a crash that injures or kills someone else, drivers could face criminal charges. Leesburg Police Department Public Information Officer Sam Shenouda said LPD has stopped 25 people for failing to move over since Jan. 1, 2015.
Brumbaugh said he has seen people moving over a lane more, in compliance with the law, but there continue to be drivers who have no idea the law exists. Brumbaugh said he couldn’t stress the importance of moving over enough, not just for law enforcement’s safety, but also for the safety of other drivers who may stop on the side of a road.
“It happens in the blink of an eye and people want to say, ‘That’ll never happen to me, I’ll never do that, I’m a good driver,'” Brumbaugh said. “It’s not about being a good driver, it’s not about having a plus five driving record, it’s about safety, it’s about courtesy and it’s about realizing anything can happen to anybody in a split second and nobody wants to be held responsible for something they never intended to do.”