Legislature(2003 - 2004)
03/09/2004 08:01 AM STA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 438-MOVE OVER LAW FOR DRIVERS CHAIR WEYHRAUCH announced that the first order of business was HOUSE BILL NO. 438, "An Act relating to motorists moving over or slowing down for emergency vehicles." REPRESENTATIVE HOLM moved to adopt HB 438 as a work draft. There being no objection, it was so ordered. [Tape recording begins here.] Number 0165 MATTHEW RUDIG, Staff to Representative Jim Holm, Alaska State Legislature, presented HB 438 on behalf of Representative Holm, sponsor. He emphasized the danger to emergency personnel working along the shoulder of a roadway. According to the National Memorial Officers' Fund, from 1997 through 2002, 93 law enforcement officers were struck and killed by motorists, while working along the sides of a roadway. Many more were injured, he noted, while substantially more experienced "close calls." The bill would require drivers to slow down to 20 miles per hour (mph) below the posted speed limit, or to 5 mph in speed zones of 25 mph or less. He said this proposed change is an attempt to ensure safety on the roadways. MR. RUDIG said that establishing [HB 438] in statute encourages the public to recognize the precaution needed while passing emergency vehicles and provides a penalty for those who refuse to obey the law, thereby causing harm. He noted that 30 other states have enacted similar legislation. MR. RUDIG pointed to testimonials given by police officers in Fairbanks, included in the committee packet. Those testimonials state how HB 438 would [positively] affect their lives and job safety. He encouraged the committee to read those testimonials. He concluded as follows: These people fight for our lives every day, and I believe that this legislation is an opportunity for the legislature to fight for theirs. Number 0376 MR. RUDIG, in response to questions from Chair Weyhrauch, clarified that the intent of the bill is to get drivers to leave the lane closest to the emergency vehicle and move over into the lane [farthest away from the stopped emergency vehicle]. He added that if there were only one lane, the intent of the bill would then be to get the driver to slow down. Number 0446 CHAIR WEYHRAUCH said sometimes an emergency vehicle will be driving 5-10 mph on the shoulder of a road. He asked if that would be considered stationary, for purposes of "this statute." MR. RUDIG proffered that stationary means still, not moving; however, he suggested asking that question of the Department of Public Safety. Number 0504 REPRESENTATIVE COGHILL noted that towing vehicles also display flashing lights. He asked if there has been any discussion regarding [including tow trucks in the legislation]. MR. RUDIG replied that there are other state statutes that address that, and he said that issue was discussed by the House Transportation Standing Committee. However, he indicated that after considering the issue, a decision was made to include those vehicles that the public recognizes as [operated by] emergency personnel. Number 0588 REPRESENTATIVE HOLM stated that "we" could not find a definition of emergency vehicle in statute. He mentioned blue flashing [lights], and he said he doesn't know if the committee wants to consider "anything that has any kind of flashing vehicle beacon." He suggested the committee could define that [in the proposed legislation]. REPRESENTATIVE COGHILL noted that volunteer fire [fighters] have blue lights [they put on their vehicles], generally in transit to a fire. He questioned whether they would actually pull over on the side of the road, unless it was at the site of the fire, in which case, a fire truck would probably be there, too. He related that he has seen [tow truck drivers] pulled over on the side of highways, where if he had been that driver, he would have felt nervous, even with the flashing lights in use. CHAIR WEYHRAUCH said he wonders if a volunteer firefighter's vehicle, with a blue light on its dash, would qualify as a fire vehicle under "this statute." Number 0690 CHAIR WEYHRAUCH turned to [subsection] (a), [paragraph] (2), which lists the requirements to slow to certain speeds. He said there wouldn't be a problem with slowing more than the amounts specified in the bill; therefore, he suggested that the language say "at least" a certain speed. MR. RUDIG responded that that would be fine. He said the intent is to make people aware, so that they slow down at least to those speeds indicated. Number 0752 KELLY NICOLELLO, Assistant State Fire Marshall, Division of Fire Prevention, Department of Public Safety, stated that the department is in favor of the proposed legislation. He addressed questions previously asked by the committee, as follows: In response to the question about the inclusion of vehicles moving slowly on the side of the road, he clarified that [HB 438] is intended to cover vehicles that are at a standstill, where the driver is outside of the vehicle and assisting a victim, for example. He indicated that there are different traffic laws for vehicles that are "rolling." MR. NICOLELLO, in response to the question regarding towing vehicles, noted that there are laws on the books stating that different types of vehicles will have different colored lights. For example, yellow lights will be on a tow truck or service vehicle. He added, "That could extend to any number of different people who provide services, that have to travel on the road, but are not considered to be emergency." An emergency vehicle normally has a multi-colored red and white flashing light. In response to the question regarding the blue lights [used by volunteer fire fighters], he said, "We" have discussed whether or not "they ought to be included in this." He explained that those who use blue lights do not have any "emergency powers"; they can't go faster than the speed limit, for example. He added, "So, we kind of put that in the same perspective as the service lights, and wanted to just keep with the public perception of the flashing red and white lights that you find on police and fire trucks." Number 0898 CHAIR WEYHRAUCH asked if that meant a vehicle with a combination of lights, including the color blue, would be "excluded from the coverage of this statute." MR. NICOLELLO answered that he doesn't think so. He said a person injured while performing duties for an emergency organization and using the light established by that organization would be covered. Number 1005 REPRESENTATIVE SEATON asked Mr. Nicolello: Is your feeling that just saying "emergency lights", when we've got all these different colored lights and different jurisdictions is actually going to advise the motoring public with definitive enough regulations to allow them to adequately respond to this statute? MR. NICOLELLO responded that he believes so. He said the public responds adequately most of the time to emergency vehicles on the roadway and "they pretty much know what's ahead of them if they see it." He stated that the proposed legislation is "only in the event that either an officer or firefighter, or emergency operations person assisting somebody on the side of the road is injured by another car." REPRESENTATIVE SEATON reiterated his concern that "a little more standardization" may be needed in order for the public to understand what "emergency lights" means. Number 1116 REPRESENTATIVE COGHILL said he is curious as to how this proposed legislation would be enforced. He said he knows the bill will be heard in the House Judiciary Standing Committee, but he wants "some comfort on that." Number 1174 REPRESENTATIVE HOLM told Representative Coghill that he has considered the issue. He offered his understanding that there are cases where two officers work in tandem; they drive separate vehicles and one officer tickets drivers who don't slow down for the other officer [working on the side of the road]. He remarked that he doesn't envision that that will be a common [practice]. REPRESENTATIVE HOLM stated that when the phrase "stationary emergency, fire, or law enforcement vehicle" is used, it brings to his mind three types of vehicles: ambulances, fire vehicles, and police vehicles. He suggested that perhaps the committee is getting too wrapped up with the subject of the lights, when the real intent of the bill is to educate the public regarding slowing down. REPRESENTATIVE COGHILL concurred, and he said he is actually supportive of the bill. Notwithstanding that, he offered an example of a person driving and talking to a child in the vehicle and not vacating the lane soon enough, or a situation in which [a police officer, for example] thinks a driver is going over the speed allowed by the proposed legislation. He questioned whether some kind of video machine or speed gun would be used. He clarified that he agrees with the concept, but is just trying to picture [how it will be enforced]. REPRESENTATIVE HOLM noted that many of the similar laws in other states don't define numbers in miles per hour, but instead use language regarding "a prudent and reasonable manner." He opined, "By not defining it, of course, it leaves a lot up to subjection." He concluded, "I don't know, this is what was suggested as the method for Alaska, by the folks that suggested the bill." Number 1343 REPRESENTATIVE SEATON said he supports the concept of the bill. He reiterated that he just wants to make sure the public is able to distinguish "what we're talking about." He asked about penalties. REPRESENTATIVE HOLM noted that it would be an infraction if the person [violates the proposed law]. Number 1402 SHELLEY OWENS, Health Program Manager, Community Health & Emergency Medical Services, Division of Public Health, Department of Health & Social Services (DHSS), testified on behalf of the department in support of HB 438. In response to a question from Chair Weyhrauch, she also noted that she is a volunteer firefighter and EMT [emergency medical technician]. She continued as follows: It's estimated that there's 12,000 emergency medical vehicle collisions each year, although we don't know how many of these are secondary collisions. The U.S. Fire Administration report said emergency vehicle crashes are the second leading cause of death for firefighters, after heart attacks. The International Association of Chiefs of Police reported that, in 1997, nearly 40 percent of all law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty died in traffic. The longer an incident is in place, the greater the exposure to additional crashes. A 1995 analysis of collision statistics in California showed an increased risk by 600 percent for secondary collision, and, in addition, the severity of secondary crashes is often greater than the original incident. A study in Washington by their Department of Transportation found that over a seven-year period, over 3,000 shoulder collisions resulted [in] 40 deaths. And in Florida, in the period [from] 1996 to 2000, there were ... 1,793 collisions, resulting in 5 police officers being killed and 419 others injured. In Alaska, in the four-year period from 1998 to 2001, 386 emergency response - defined as police, fire, and ambulance - vehicles were involved in accidents. Of the 386 crashes, 46 incidents involved a parked emergency response vehicle. The Department of Health & Social Services supports efforts to reduce the number and severity of injuries to fire, EMS, and law enforcement personnel at emergency scenes. Equipping rescuers so that they're more visible on scenes, providing training to motorists about their responsibilities regarding emergency vehicles in scenes, and enacting legislation that increases the safety of rescuers, patients, and bystanders, are all important means of achieving this goal. Consequently, the department supports HB 438. Number 1510 CHAIR WEYHRAUCH asked Ms. Owens if other states have data to show the number of injuries and fatalities that occurred before and after the enactment of this kind of statute. MS. OWENS answered she doesn't know. In response to a follow-up question from Chair Weyhrauch, she explained that a secondary crash is referred to as a shoulder crash in California, and it means that a stationary vehicle was on the side of the road and a secondary impact occurred. Number 1552 CHAIR WEYHRAUCH announced that public testimony was closed. Number 1575 CHAIR WEYHRAUCH moved to adopt [Amendment 1], which read as follows: Page 1, line 8 Between "shall" and "vacate" Insert "safely" REPRESENTATIVE HOLM said he thinks that would be a good addition to the language. Number 1594 CHAIR WEYHRAUCH asked if there was any objection to [Amendment 1]. There being none, it was so ordered. Number 1600 REPRESENTATIVE SEATON asked if vacating the lane would mean that a driver could pull his/her vehicle onto the shoulder of the road. CHAIR WEYHRAUCH responded that perhaps the safest thing to do [in some circumstances] would be to pull over to the shoulder or to "cut the line between the accident." He offered his understanding that the intent of the bill is to have drivers move their vehicles away, so that secondary crashes do not occur, and to do so as safely as possible, which "links into the speed you have to go on the second Section." Number 1657 CHAIR WEYHRAUCH noted that [Amendment 2] read as follows: Page 1, line 11 Between "shall slow to" and "20 miles an hour" Insert "at most" Page 1, line 12 Between "or to" and "5 miles an hour" Insert "at most" CHAIR WEYHRAUCH noted that he had originally thought to insert "at least", but now is suggesting "at most". Number 1670 REPRESENTATIVE HOLM explained why the phrase "at least" would be better than using the phrase "at most" on line 11. CHAIR WEYHRAUCH asked [if that would also apply to line 12]. Number 1689 REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG commented that he had just looked at the other state laws [regarding select states and provided in the committee packet]. He observed that they all are written similarly to each other, but dissimilarly to the proposed [HB 438]. He clarified that those other states' laws do not list a firm speed. He read an example from the Iowa law. He said he tends to favor that approach, because Alaska roads are so diverse in their conditions. Number 1759 REPRESENTATIVE HOLM noted that [HB 438] was patterned after a Texas law, which is not included in the packet. He said he somewhat concurs with [Representative Gruenberg]. He explained that "we were promoting this because it was what was asked of us ...." He said he would not have any angst over changing it. Number 1782 REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG suggested the committee consider [some of the other states' laws]. He indicated parts of the Georgia law as an example of a common sense approach. Representative Gruenberg pointed out that another circumstance, besides that of a person on the side of the road rendering assistance, might be a road block situation set up to check for people driving under the influence (DUI). He said a bomb scare situation is another example. Number 1907 CHAIR WEYHRAUCH stated his intent is to move the bill from committee today. He said he had planned to consider [Section 1, paragraph (2)] in more detail; however, he would like the House Judiciary Standing Committee to address that part of the bill. Number 1925 REPRESENTATIVE LYNN noted that in some construction areas there are signs posted that warn drivers that the penalty for exceeding the speed limit is double what it would normally be in that zone. He asked if Section 1, [paragraph] (2), would be a good place to add language doubling whatever penalty there might be. REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG said, "I don't see any of these having a Class A misdemeanor and being based on injury." He turned to [paragraph] (b) and noted that an infraction, as defined in AS 11.81.900, is something that is not punishable by imprisonment, but by a fine of up to $500. He mentioned a step increase. REPRESENTATIVE LYNN reiterated his idea of mirroring the fines used in construction zones. REPRESENTATIVE SEATON responded, "We're going from nothing to an infraction, and now we're talking about doubling it." He pointed out that doubling [fines] in a construction zone works, because "you have advertisement over a long period of time that tells people." He pointed out that there wouldn't be a notice on the back of every [emergency] vehicle letting drivers know that if they don't move over they will be issued a double fine. Number 2017 REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG asked, "Isn't there something on the books already about this, in this state?" REPRESENTATIVE HOLM answered he does not believe so. REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG offered his understanding that there is something called the Uniform Traffic Act in the regulations. He added, "I'm surprised that that's not covered." Number 2004 REPRESENTATIVE COGHILL noted that under basic speed laws, there are "some things they can do," but he said he thinks it's "a higher level of proof." He also pointed out that road etiquette is taught, but, to his knowledge, there is no enforcement mechanism. Number 2048 REPRESENTATIVE SEATON said having this specific requirement draws a very much heightened awareness, so people taking driver's tests can see that there is a different circumstance when there is an emergency vehicle than the basic speed law under which a driver is supposed to use due caution. Therefore, he said he thinks it's beneficial. REPRESENTATIVE COGHILL said he doesn't know if there's a penalty even for [not] pulling over for an emergency vehicle that is coming up behind a driver. He suggested there could also be a heightened awareness of that. Number 2097 REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG noted that Alaska does not have many roads with two lanes in each direction. He said he is concerned about people pulling over into an oncoming lane during icy winter conditions and causing an accident. Number 2136 CHAIR WEYHRAUCH clarified for the record that Amendment 2 had not been adopted; the discussion held regarding [paragraph] (2) would be held for the House Judiciary Standing Committee. REPRESENTATIVE COGHILL referred members carrying the bill [to the House Judiciary Standing Committee] to "13AAC04090," which he said is [in regard to] authorized emergency vehicles and lights. Number 2149 REPRESENTATIVE COGHILL moved to report HB 438, as amended, with individual recommendations, and the accompanying fiscal notes. There being no objection, CSHB 438(STA) was reported out of the House State Affairs Standing Committee.