Legislature(2003 - 2004)

03/09/2004 08:01 AM STA

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= 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                                                               
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                                                               
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                                                               
     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                                                               
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                                                               
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                                                               
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                                                               
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                                                               
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.                                                                                         

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