Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Law Pushes Safety into Realm of Irony

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Law Pushes Safety into Realm of Irony

Article excerpt

The noise must have startled Sarasota County Sheriff's deputy Chris Butler about as much as it is possible to be startled.

The very experienced deputy had just stopped next to Interstate 75 and opened his SUV patrol car's driver-side door Sunday afternoon when a Cadillac going by at highway speed hit his open door.

The impact slammed his door open all the way, and then some, pounding it so hard into the front fender that all of the patrol car's air bags deployed, each with their own explosions of sound and smoke.

Butler wasn't injured, aside from some air-bag related soreness, it seems. That's a really good thing. I'm very glad Butler wasn't quite already getting out of the car at the time.

He is still around and now has a chance to ponder the irony of that brush with death.

Here it is: Butler was in harm's way inches from passing traffic because he was on a special detail enforcing Florida's move-over law. That law is all about keeping cops and other emergency workers - - and anyone who is there with them -- as safe as possible when stopped on the roadside.

Yes, Butler had just stopped a driver for a move-over violation. As it turned out, stopping a man to write him a ticket endangered both of them, and flying debris from the smashed patrol car's door hit the car Butler had stopped.

The driver of the car Butler had stopped hadn't done anything crazy. He was being ticketed for not changing lanes or slowing down - - not enough, anyway -- while passing a law enforcement car that was stopped on the roadside with blue lights flashing. Failing to change lanes away from a stopped police car if possible, or failing to slow to 20 mph below the highway's speed limit, is a violation of Florida law.

I argued in a column two days ago that this feel-good law actually puts those on the roadside at more risk. Some passing drivers overreact when they suddenly realize they are going too fast and might get a ticket. They then think less of safety and more of avoiding a fine and swerve or brake too sharply. That can cause other drivers to dodge them by going near or onto the road shoulder, exactly what we are trying to avoid.

But Butler's experience shows yet another anti-safety factor: The law creates one more reason officers and others will be stopping in harm's way on the roadside. …

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