EVERETT, WA. -- For Trooper Brandon Lee, it was just a routine stop on the side of the road to assist with a disabled vehicle.
Last week in Skagit County, he radioed his location and positioned his vehicle in a safe spot behind a disabled vehicle. Trooper Lee unbuckled his seat belt to step out of his patrol car, and that's when he was hit.
It was an extremely hard impact, says Lee.
A passing driver hit Lee's patrol car, sending the vehicle thrusting forward.
I flew back in my seat, then flew forward and hit the driver's side window with my head, he says. You see, all these cars pass you all hours ofthe day as we are doing our job. You never really know when or if its going to happen to you, but it did.
Trooper Lee walked away from the crash with pain in his neck, but it could have been a lot worse. Now, more protection is on the way for emergency responders like Lee working on the side of the highway.
Starting January 1, 2011, Washington's enhanced Emergency Zone law takes effect. It builds on an earlier move over law and creates zonesaround emergency workers similar to constructions zones. Under the new law, the fine will double to $248 if you're speeding or fail to move over when
passing through the emergency zone.
The State Patrol is not the only organization struggling with this problem. The towing industry recently experienced the tragedy of having one of its drivers killed while working on the side of the road, said John R. Batiste, Chief of the Washington State Patrol. Complying with this new law
couldn't be easier. Slow down and move over when approaching emergency workers on the side of the road.
Driving behavior that endangers an emergency worker becomes a crime. The motorist could be charged with a gross misdemeanor with possible jail time and a mandatory 60-day license suspension.
It is important for drivers to slow down and move over when they see emergency crews working on the freeway; it is not just for the driver's safety but for our crew's safety, said Warren A. Merritt, Deputy Chief of the Bellevue Fire Department and Washington Fire Chiefs. Awareness of this new law willhelp motorists and emergency works stay safe.
Washington State passed the original move over law in 2007. However despite this change, the problem continued to get worse. Between 2006 and 2009, the Washington State Patrol alone had 80 collisions involving passing vehicles striking trooper vehicles parked alongside the highway.
The major contributing factor in these collisions were speeding or driving too fast for conditions, followed by DUI.
The new law also requires State Patrol to conduct an education period for the first 90 days. During this time, troopers will focus on educatingdrivers about this new law and the need to slow down and move over when they approach and pass through emergency zones.
For Trooper Lee, whatever it takes to stay safe on the job is good for him and other drivers.
[The accident] was extremely scary, says Lee. All I can tell people is this is a good law.Pay attention to driving, because you never know when this might happen.