Legislature(2003 - 2004)

02/24/2004 01:34 PM TRA

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 438-MOVE OVER LAW FOR DRIVERS                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR HOLM  announced that the  final order of business  would be                                                               
HOUSE BILL NO. 438, "An Act  relating to motorists moving over or                                                               
slowing down for emergency vehicles."                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
Number 2209                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MATTHEW  RUDIG, Staff  to Representative  Jim Holm,  Alaska State                                                               
Legislature, presented  HB 438 on behalf  of Representative Holm,                                                               
sponsor.  Mr. Rudig read from written testimony, as follows:                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
     Safety;  that is  what this  bill hopes  to accomplish.                                                                    
     Moving  over  and  slowing   down,  according  to  this                                                                    
     statute, can save lives.   It is very dangerous for ...                                                                    
     [law enforcement], fire, and  emergency personnel to be                                                                    
     working ... along the shoulder of a roadway.                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
     According  to  the  National Law  Enforcement  Officers                                                                    
     Memorial  Fund,  ... from  1997  through  2002, 93  ...                                                                    
     police officers  [were struck and killed  by vehicles].                                                                    
     Many  more have  been  injured  and substantially  more                                                                    
     have had close calls.                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
MR. RUDIG said by mandating  that drivers, when passing a vehicle                                                               
displaying  emergency lights,  have  reduced their  speeds to  20                                                               
miles  below the  posted speed  limit, and  to 5  miles per  hour                                                               
(mph) in a 25 mph or less  zone, is an attempt at ensuring safety                                                               
on  the  roadways.   He  said  while  no measure  of  "move-over"                                                               
legislation  will   guarantee  complete  safety   to  [emergency]                                                               
personnel,  this   bill  along  with  further   public  education                                                               
efforts, may heighten driver awareness  of the inherent danger to                                                               
the men  and women  who serve  in uniform.   Mr.  Rudig explained                                                               
that establishing  this law in  statute encourages the  public to                                                               
recognize   the  precaution   needed   while  passing   emergency                                                               
personnel  and provides  for a  penalty for  those who  refuse to                                                               
obey this  law.   Thirty other states  have enacted  similar laws                                                               
and some  of the examples  of these are  in the bill  packets, he                                                               
said.  Mr.  Rudig said this legislation is  not unprecedented; it                                                               
is  essential.     Also   included  in   the  bill   packets  are                                                               
testimonials given  by Fairbanks  police officers stating  how HB
438 can affect their livelihood.                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
MR.  RUDIG  said   there  is  also  a   representative  from  the                                                               
Department of Public Safety [DPS]  available to answer questions.                                                               
He remarked, "These people fight  for our lives everyday and this                                                               
legislation is  an opportunity for  the legislature to  fight for                                                               
theirs."                                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
Number 2310                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
SHELLY  OWENS,  Health  Program  Manager,  Community  Health  and                                                               
Emergency   Medical   Services,   Division  of   Public   Health,                                                               
Department  of Health  and Social  Services (DHSS),  testified in                                                               
support of HB  438 on behalf of  DHSS.  She said  it is estimated                                                               
that  there  12,000  emergency medical  vehicle  collisions  each                                                               
year,  but it  is  not  known how  many  of  those are  secondary                                                               
crashes.   She said the  U.S. Fire Administration  (USFA) reports                                                               
that emergency  vehicle crashes are  the second leading  cause of                                                               
death for firefighters.  Furthermore,  she said the International                                                               
Association of  Chiefs of  Police (IACP)  reported that  in 1997,                                                               
nearly 40  percent of  law enforcement officers  who died  in the                                                               
line of duty,  died in traffic.  She explained  that the exposure                                                               
to traditional  crashes is greater  the longer an accident  is in                                                               
place, and the severity of a  secondary crash is greater than the                                                               
original incident.   Ms. Owens said a 1995  analysis of collision                                                               
statistics in California showed an  increased risk by 600 percent                                                               
to  a secondary  collision.   Furthermore, she  explained that  a                                                               
study   conducted  by   the  [Washington   State  Department   of                                                               
Transportation  (WSDOT)]  noted  that   in  a  five-year  period,                                                               
motorists in Florida crashed almost  1,800 times into working law                                                               
enforcement  vehicles   that  were   stopped  and   parked  along                                                               
roadways,  which resulted  in five  fatalities.   In Alaska,  she                                                               
said  during a  four-year period,  from 1998  to 2001  [Tape ends                                                               
mid-sentence].                                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
TAPE 04-7, SIDE B                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
MS.  OWENS continued  by  saying that  there  were 386  emergency                                                               
response vehicles  involved in accidents.   Moreover, of  the 386                                                               
crashes,  46  incidents  involved  a  parked  emergency  response                                                               
vehicle.    She  said  motor vehicle  operators  are  exposed  to                                                               
multiple sources of distraction  including mobile phones, radios,                                                               
and  children [making  it  difficult to  hear  and see  emergency                                                               
response vehicle's]  sirens and lights.   She said  DHSS supports                                                               
efforts to  reduce the number  and severity of injuries  to fire,                                                               
EMS [emergency  medical service],  and law  enforcement personnel                                                               
at emergency scenes, including [making]  rescuers more visible at                                                               
the   scene,   providing   training  to   motorists   about   the                                                               
responsibilities  regarding  emergency   vehicles  at  [accident]                                                               
scenes, and enacting legislation that  is inclusive to the safety                                                               
of rescuers,  patients, and bystanders  on (indisc.  - coughing).                                                               
She reiterated that DHSS supports HB 438.                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  STEPOVICH  asked   if  police  officers  [issuing                                                               
traffic citations would be included in this legislation].                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
MS.  OWENS  deferred   the  question  to  DPS.     She  said  her                                                               
understanding is  the bill will  require drivers to pull  over or                                                               
slow down  in the  presence of  emergency response  [vehicles] or                                                               
ambulances  on the  side of  the road  with flashing  [emergency]                                                               
lights.                                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
Number 2318                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE STEPOVICH  directed attention to page  1, line 12,                                                               
and he said he thought  [police] officers would [direct people to                                                               
move faster] if  there was lot of  traffic [due to the  5 mile an                                                               
hour speed restriction imposed by the bill].                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR HOLM clarified  that [the 5 mile an  hour speed restriction                                                               
is imposed] in areas in which the  speed limit is 25 mph or less,                                                               
such as a school zone.   He remarked, "That's what they suggested                                                               
that we should do."                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
Number 2287                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE OGG,  citing Ms. Owens' testimony,  asked if those                                                               
numbers  [regarding secondary  accidents]  could include  highway                                                               
maintenance people.                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
MS. OWENS indicated she would be happy to find out the answer.                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE   STEPOVICH  asked   if  emergency   vehicles  are                                                               
required to put  up emergency [signaling devices]  such as flares                                                               
or reflective triangles.                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
Number 2245                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
KELLY NICOLELLO,  Assistant State  Fire Marshal,  Central Office,                                                               
Division of  Fire Prevention, Department of  Public Safety (DPS),                                                               
testified.  Mr. Nicolello replied no.  He remarked:                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
     When you're  performing your duty during  an emergency,                                                                    
     and once  you have, either  from a fire  perspective up                                                                    
     on a crash or from  a police perspective maybe pull the                                                                    
     vehicle  over for  speeding, you  are concentrating  on                                                                    
     the people  who are there.   You place your  vehicle in                                                                    
     the most safe spot to  protect you, but your lights are                                                                    
     your protection  for identifying  that there is  an ...                                                                    
     emergency action taking place on the side of the road.                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
     ...  Unfortunately, what  happens with  those emergency                                                                    
     lights,  like any  type  of  warning device,  sometimes                                                                    
     people  are attracted  to  it, like  a  moth to  flame.                                                                    
     That's some  of the  types of  accidents that  occur on                                                                    
     the side  of the  road that  injure fire  and/or police                                                                    
     people.                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
     So, to ask them to put  flares out when they're doing a                                                                    
     speeding stop or their coming  up on an accident, there                                                                    
     may  be an  appropriate time  to do  that depending  on                                                                    
     what the situation is, but  usually the first person in                                                                    
     isn't going to  be doing that because  they're going to                                                                    
     be concentrating on their patients  or they're going to                                                                    
     be concentrating  on the  person they're  pulling overs                                                                    
     actions.                                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE STEPOVICH remarked, "I  have trouble with the term                                                               
'emergency' especially in  the cases of ...  speeding tickets and                                                               
such like that."                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
MR.  NICOLELLO said  he  would find  it hard  to  believe that  a                                                               
person  couldn't see  the emergency  flashing  lights, which  are                                                               
different colors and  multiple frequencies, but would  be able to                                                               
see a flare or a [reflective] triangle.                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  STEPOVICH said  he understood  that part,  but he                                                               
didn't understand  the term "emergency"  being used in  regard to                                                               
[issuing] a speeding ticket.                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
MR. NICOLELLO  said it [is  in reference] to an  emergency person                                                               
doing his  or her job,  and using lights  as warning lights.   He                                                               
said  pulling a  person  over for  a speeding  ticket  may be  an                                                               
infraction and  may not  be an  "emergency," but  those emergency                                                               
lights are what are operating and  that is from where the term is                                                               
being quoted.                                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
Number 2132                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  STEPOVICH   asked  about  [the   procedures  that                                                               
emergency personnel  take to ensure  their safety at  an accident                                                               
scene].                                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
MR.  NICOLELLO  explained  that  there   is  a  certain  way  the                                                               
[emergency response] vehicle  is to be parked  in relationship to                                                               
the other vehicles;  it will be put outbound into  traffic just a                                                               
little bit,  which will protect the  officer from being hit  by a                                                               
moving vehicle  thus his or  her own  vehicle acts as  a blocking                                                               
point.                                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE STEPOVICH  said he  has seen situations  where the                                                               
proper care isn't  taken and an [officer] doesn't  make a vehicle                                                               
being  pulled over  pull farther  [over  on the  shoulder of  the                                                               
road] or wait for a safe area to pull over the vehicle.                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
MR.  NICOLELLO  asked  if  Representative  Stepovich  was  saying                                                               
officers regularly do this and it is a known problem.                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE   STEPOVICH  said   he   hopes  [officers]   don't                                                               
regularly do it, but  he thinks care needs to be  taken.  He said                                                               
there  are  some  times  when  it  can't  be  done,  such  as  in                                                               
accidents,  but  at  other times  [officers]  should  follow  the                                                               
vehicle until  a proper area is  found [to make a  traffic stop].                                                               
Representative Stepovich  said he  thought that  was part  of the                                                               
policy.                                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
Number 2065                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MR. NICOLELLO said it is, but  he pointed out that [traffic stops                                                               
are  often made]  on streets  that  people use  for commuting  to                                                               
work.    He  said  from  the  [firefighting  perspective],  every                                                               
incident is critiqued when it  is over, including everything from                                                               
[the areas]  where vehicles  were parked to  how the  patient was                                                               
handled.  From a [police  perspective] it probably doesn't happen                                                               
quite  as often  because usually  only  a single  officer or  two                                                               
officers respond, but still [police  officers] realize their life                                                               
is on the line if things are  not done right.  He remarked, "It's                                                               
their inherent responsibility to themselves  to make sure they do                                                               
it  right; ...  I'm  not going  to argue  that  you haven't  seen                                                               
something that wasn't  quite the way you think  it should've been                                                               
right,  and that  is something  that is  responded to  within the                                                               
department   through  field   training   and  through   recurring                                                               
training."   Mr. Nicolello  said for the  most part,  "an officer                                                               
who doesn't  protect himself  is his  own liability,"  and people                                                               
aren't here to  sacrifice their lives for  issues that contribute                                                               
to society, but he understood Representative Stepovich's point.                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  STEPOVICH noted  that  Mr. Nicolello  had made  a                                                               
good point.   He expressed  concern about whether the  speeds [in                                                               
the  bill] are  right or  whether the  speeds would  make traffic                                                               
more difficult.                                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR HOLM  said he thought  it is a good  point that it  is more                                                               
important that  the emergency be taken  care of first, and  it is                                                               
the first priority of the  emergency vehicle at that point, while                                                               
traffic control  is secondary, and  people should  be responsible                                                               
as drivers in looking out for [other vehicles].                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  OGG said  he was  curious  about whether  highway                                                               
maintenance   workers  should   be  included,   because  [highway                                                               
maintenance workers are  often] parked or working on  the side of                                                               
the road.                                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
Number 1961                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MR.  RUDIG  said  he  believed  there  are  currently  fines  and                                                               
enforcement with respect  to [vehicles] slowing down  when in the                                                               
presence of [highway maintenance  workers], often in areas marked                                                               
by signs and red  cones.  He said he believed  there is a statute                                                               
in  place to  address  [highway maintenance  worker safety],  but                                                               
there is  no statute  to address  [emergency vehicles]  parked on                                                               
the side of the road.                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE OGG  called attention to [page  1], paragraph (2),                                                               
and  he asked  [about  the relationship  between the  established                                                               
speed limit and  the reduced speed limit when in  the presence of                                                               
an emergency vehicle].                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
MR.  RUDIG said  the purpose  of the  statue is  if a  vehicle is                                                               
traveling  at  30 mph,  when  in  the  presence of  an  emergency                                                               
vehicle, that  vehicle would  have to  slow down  to 10  mph, and                                                               
when traveling at 25 mph or  less, the vehicle would have to slow                                                               
down to 5 mph.                                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
Number 1894                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE STEPOVICH  said he thought it  is already required                                                               
that vehicles  slow down when a  police officer is in  pursuit or                                                               
an emergency  vehicle is pulling  over on  the side of  the road.                                                               
He asked about reckless endangerment,  and about the type of fine                                                               
that would be issued for not complying with [HB 438].                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
MR. RUDIG referred to AS 12.55.035  and noted that the fine would                                                               
not exceed  $10,000.  He explained  that this would be  a class A                                                               
misdemeanor  if  personal  injury   were  to  happen  because  of                                                               
recklessness caused by a person  not slowing down in the presence                                                               
of an  [emergency vehicle] pulled over  to the side of  the road.                                                               
However,  he said  DPS  has  indicated that  by  putting this  in                                                               
statute, a  ticket could be  written based on the  other speeding                                                               
laws currently in statute and regulation.                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
MR. NICOLELLO  said if there was  an issue in which  a person, on                                                               
icy conditions,  slows down to 5  mph and still hits  the officer                                                               
or hits  the officer's car  causing it  to hit the  officer, that                                                               
person  could be  cited  for going  faster  than road  conditions                                                               
[permit].  He said it  would probably involve some judgment based                                                               
on the officer's part, although  that's a different situation, so                                                               
he  did not  have a  firm answer  regarding that.   He  said [the                                                               
fine]  is  [issued]  only  if  injury  results.    Under  current                                                               
statute,  he  said  if  an  officer  directs  a  motorist  to  do                                                               
something  while  passing an  accident  scene  or another  action                                                               
being taken  and the [motorist]  disobeys it, the  motorist could                                                               
be cited under  a federal offense, which he  believed falls under                                                               
"reckless endangerment."   Mr. Nicolello brought  up the question                                                               
about including  highway [maintenance] workers in  this bill, and                                                               
he  explained that  the difference  is that  the public  does not                                                               
have  an expectation  to react  to [maintenance]  vehicles, which                                                               
are usually only  identified by a rotating yellow  light, as they                                                               
are to  [emergency vehicles].   He  remarked, "Something  that is                                                               
also very  ... important  in it's  availability with  the highway                                                               
people on  the side of the  road whereas if you've  got a police,                                                               
fire, or ambulance,  you also have a group of  one or more people                                                               
who can take hostile action if somebody were to get hurt."                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  STEPOVICH  said  it   seemed  [the  speed  limits                                                               
imposed by  the bill]  might create  some "rubbernecking"  in the                                                               
more  traffic congested  areas,  but he's  "not saying  everybody                                                               
should  do 100  mph by  a  police officer."   He  said there  are                                                               
problems with  that in  the Lower 48.   Although  he acknowledged                                                               
that there  are different circumstances in  Alaska, the [problems                                                               
occur] when people  stop or slow traffic down  and create dangers                                                               
farther off the road.   Representative Stepovich said it would be                                                               
a fairly  radical change in the  speed [limit].  He  indicated he                                                               
thought the correlation of speeds may  be a problem but he agreed                                                               
that people should slow down when going by.                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MR. RUDIG  said he didn't research  that issue, but he  wanted to                                                               
add  the point  that  the  bill creates  a  public education  for                                                               
people to  slow down  and recognize  [emergency vehicles]  on the                                                               
side of the road.  He said  an officer's life would be in serious                                                               
danger if  hit by  a vehicle going  25 or 55  mph, but  this bill                                                               
gives the  officer and others the  opportunity to get out  of the                                                               
way.                                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR HOLM explained  that the reason for putting  forth the bill                                                               
was to  allow [emergency responders]  to have the  opportunity to                                                               
[escape from danger].                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  STEPOVICH remarked,  "If  the  officer gets  hit,                                                               
we're too late already; ... I  know if the bill comes through and                                                               
it avoids him  getting hit, that's a different story,  but as far                                                               
as getting hit, that's where I  have trouble with how the bill is                                                               
going to be."                                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
The committee took a brief at-ease.                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
Number 1585                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE OGG moved  to report HB 438 out  of committee with                                                               
individual  recommendations and  the  accompanying fiscal  notes.                                                               
There being  no objection, HB 438  was reported out of  the House                                                               
Transportation Standing Committee.                                                                                              

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