TAMPA, Fla. — Drivers who refuse to slow down and move over when a vehicle is stopped on the side of the road have become all too common in Florida.
Images provided by law enforcement agencies capture the shocking consequences when drivers ignore the state’s more than 20-year-old law.
A 2022 video released by the Florida Highway Patrol shows a Lexus SUV plowing through a half dozen traffic cones. It barely missed a mother and her young children standing next to their disabled vehicle before the Lexus ultimately collided with the tow truck flatbed parked on the side of the Turnpike.
Around the country, violators of state move-over laws are a problem that kills nearly 350 people nationwide each year, according to the American Automobile Association. Florida ranks among the top three deadliest states, according to the auto group.
“There’s no protection right now or no law that requires drivers to move over for you,” AAA spokesman Mark Jenkins explained.
As a result, the group is pushing state lawmakers to expand Florida’s “Move Over” law to include not just police, first responders, construction and tow truck operators but all disabled vehicles stopped on the side of the road.
“Unfortunately, so many people die on the roadside every single year. So, anything that we can do to bring attention to this issue is extremely valuable and could save lives,” Jenkins said.
But entrepreneur David Tucker believes expanding the law is only one step to reducing the number of injuries and deaths from move-over crashes.
“Something needs to be done because there’s fatalities every day like clockwork,” he recently told Investigative Reporter Katie LaGrone.
For the past two years, Tucker and his team have been tracking published reports of move-over crashes around the country, focusing on deadly incidents involving passenger or commercial vehicles.
“Just from what’s published, we’re seeing 55 to 60 a month,” Tucker said. “So it’s 20 times bigger of a problem,” Tucker said, compared to deaths involving emergency responders and tow truck operators already covered under the state’s law.
Tucker, who spent his career solving safety problems in the oil and gas industry, became interested in roadside safety after his close call.
RELATED: Does Florida’s Move Over law have the impact it was intended to?
At the time, Tucker was retired and traveling the country in his motor home when every time he stopped to check his load, he faced the same glaring threat.
“It took a couple of times to pull over in this big motor home package and put on the hazard lights to realize people didn’t see me,” he said. “They weren’t doing it on purpose. They just didn’t see me in time.”
Then one day, he got a flat tire.
“An 18-wheeler came by and it took off the side view mirror. It came within inches of killing me, and I dove out of the way. I was like, ‘This is bad,'” he recalled.
Tucker said the near-miss forced him out of retirement and into what has become a personal mission.
“What happens if one of my kids had this accident and I thought, ‘Well, I could have done something,'” Tucker said.
So the career-long start-up guy started Emergency Safety Solutions (ESS), a company aimed at eliminating roadside crashes with existing technology; his company is just upgrading.
Take your standard passenger vehicle hazard lights. Typical hazard lights on passenger vehicles flash one to two hertz per second. Tucker said those standards hadn’t been updated since 1951.
So his company, ESS, developed hazards that flash about three hertz per second faster, giving the lights on the front and back of a vehicle more of an emergency look when they flash.
A Virginia Tech Transportation Insitute study commissioned by ESS found drivers moved over or slowed down 80% of the time when the rapid flash hazards were mobilized compared to 30% with common hazards.
“When we use this on the side of the road, people come up to us all the time and say, “How do I get that?'” he said.
In addition, ESS has created a digital alert system inside the vehicle that warns drivers of a disabled vehicle up to four football fields away. When the hazards are initiated either manually or automatically, the alerts are also sent to your phone through common navigation apps.
“I couldn’t believe that the solution we’re advancing wasn’t already advanced. I thought there was a reason because it’s so simple,” Tucker said. “This is proven technology. We’re just combining proven technology to give you a better warning system.”
The team is working on getting car makers to include the technology in new cars voluntarily. Tucker said Tesla has already committed.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently ruled ESS technology was legal, a significant win for the company. Still, Tucker hopes it will eventually help lead to new federal safety standards for hazard lights and advanced warning systems.
“Seat belt laws took like 30 years or so to really come into its being,” emergency room physician Dr. Ricardo Martinez.
Martinez is an unpaid safety advisor for ESS but also served as administrator for the NHTSA in the 1990s.
“I think the challenges technologically are not really big here,” he said “It’s just a matter of having the will to move forward.”
That will, along with an expanded move-over law in Florida, some say, should apply to everyone.
“Once you see the problem, it’s really hard to act like it doesn’t exist,” Tucker said.
According to an NHTSA spokesperson, before new standards are adopted, the agency must first demonstrate a safety need and prove a new requirement would help solve that need. Tucker and his team are working through those details.