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State troopers say they’re starting to aggressively enforce a law requiring drivers to avoid emergency vehicles when they are stopped on roadsides.
If a trooper is using lights or sirens on a highway’s shoulder, drivers are required to move over, slow down or face a fine of up to $200.
On a highway with more than one lane available, drivers must move farthest from the stopped emergency vehicle, the law states.
If moving is impossible, then drivers must slow to a “reasonably safe speed.”
Last year, the Legislature revised the law’s wording at the request of the State Police, said trooper Gilbert Dardar, a spokesman for Troop C in Gray. The former law required drivers to slow down to 25 mph if they couldn’t maneuver away, he said.
“You become a hazard going that slow,” he said. The wording of the law “leaves some gray area” for an officer’s discretion, he said, making it easier to ticket drivers if they aren’t being cautious.
“Cars pass literally inches from you in some cases,” Dardar said. “It is one of the most dangerous things a trooper has to deal with.”
Getting out of a cruiser to ticket or help a driver with car trouble puts an officer on guard, said trooper Tracy Plaisance, one of the local troop’s outspoken advocates of the law.
Plaisance worked as an officer in Tennessee for several years, where two officers were victims in roadside collisions before the state began ramping up their enforcement, he said.
Signs now announce the law on some major highways there.
“There have been lots of close calls,” Plaisance said. “We shouldn’t have to lose our lives before people realize – get over.”
The last Louisiana trooper to die in the line of duty was killed because a driver failed to get over.
In 1998, 29-year-old trooper Hung Le was struck working in a construction area on I-55 near Ponchatoula, according to the State Police.
Le was using his emergency lights to divert cars from a crew re-striping the road and collecting traffic cones. A van failed merge into the left lane away from the workers and struck Le, who was sitting in his car, police said.
The van hit Le from behind, pushing his police car into a construction truck. The impact caused his car to catch fire. Le, who’d been a trooper for a year and four months, later died from his injuries, police said.
The law is almost impossible to enforce if a trooper is working solo, Dardar said. The agency may station more than one together on a road to catch violators.
Dardar said to expect to see troopers working details specifically to catch drivers who violate the law.
On Friday, Plaisance and Dardar demonstrated how they might enforce the law. Both stopped on the shoulder of an elevated portion of U.S. 90 near Gray and put their lights on.
During a 15-minute period, at least three drivers failed to heed their signals. The third was pulled over and given a verbal warning. His excuse?
“The cell phone went off and he had it in his hand,” Plaisance said, adding the driver said he was aware of the law.