Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Driver Alert: Washington's New "Emergency Zone Law" Increases Safety Zone for Emergency Vehicles

Drivers must slow down and move over for Emergency vehicles.
Washington state's "Emergency Zone Law", which takes effect on January 1st, is even more stringent than the existing "Move Over Law", which has been on the books since 2007.

The new law creates a 200-foot zone around stationary emergency vehicles that have their lights activated. This includes Medic One, fire engines, police cars, tow trucks and even Department of Transportation vehicles.

The reason for the increased safety zone is to protect first responders. Fines for speeding in these zones will double, and tickets for failing to slow down and move over will also double, from $124 to $248.

Currently, the "Move Over Law" requires motorists traveling on a road with at least two lanes in their direction to move over one lane from the shoulder when approaching an emergency vehicle with its lights activated. Drivers are also required by law to slow down and proceed with caution.

On roads with one lane in each direction, motorists must slow down and pass to the left of the emergency vehicle if it is safe to do. But, they must yield the right-of-way to all oncoming traffic before proceeding.

The new law has similar wording, but increases the safety zone in front and behind active emergency vehicles to 200 feet, and doubles the fine for failing to slow down or move over.

The increased safety zone was voted into law due to the injuries and fatalities suffered by emergency personnel by drivers who failed to yield or give a wide berth to emergency vehicles. Recently, a couple police officers responding to a disabled vehicle were injured when they had to jump off the road to avoid being hit by an inattentive driver. In another recent case, a tow truck driver was killed while tending to a disabled vehicle on the southbound lanes of Interstate 5.

Between April 2009 and December 2010, the "Move Over Law" has resulted in 2,940 drivers being warned by Washington State Patrol officers, with 592 tickets issued.

This law increases the safety zone around emergency vehicles, and is likely to result in more citations in an effort to reduce the injuries and fatalities suffered by police, medics and tow truck drivers while they're trying to do their job.

Please slow down and make sure you give these workers plenty of room when approaching them on the road. If not, you're looking at a hefty fine beginning January 1.

Sources: Washington State Patrol, Seattle Times

Friday, December 10, 2010

Holiday Travel by Car Takes a Little Planning

With Christmas and New Year’s both falling on the weekend this year, the holiday season will be more of a challenge than usual. With airfares more expensive, and the security at airports at unprecedented levels of intimacy and aggravation, you might be set on getting to Grandma’s house by automobile this year.

With the price of gas fairly stable and plentiful, combined with the continued steep rise in airfare and lack of available flights, a road trip may be more attractive to many travelers this season.

But, if you are considering going over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house this year, here are some things to consider:

Pre-plan your route

Even with a GPS system, it’s good to have a backup plan, as road construction will not always show up on the GPS. Going online and checking the cities and states along your intended route for scheduled maintenance and delays will allow you to plan alternative routes ahead of time. An alternative route that might normally have taken an extra 45 minutes might be actually much faster if the major route has construction that narrows the roadway or even shuts it down periodically. If you don't have a GPS system, go to your local AAA office and pick up maps of the area. Getting lost can ruin even the most well-planned road trips.

Allow plenty of time

The most common reason why things go wrong is bad route planning. If you expect to get there without delays and average 60 miles an hour for the entire trip, you’re bound to be frustrated or upset. Even moderate expectations can be wrong when things such as snowfall, flat tires, road construction or heavy traffic slows you down. Don’t try to drive ‘straight through’ if the drive is going to be longer than eight or nine hours. Fatigue from driving too long puts you and your family at a higher risk of getting in an accident. Plan on stopping after a day of driving, and call for reservations before you leave on the trip. If you just arrive at your planned destination and try to find lodging, there may be no room at the inn, and you may be faced with either driving late into the night to other lodging, or settling for someplace that is either not very nice or very expensive. In either case, it isn’t a good start.

Consider when to leave and arrive

During your trip you will inevitably travel through some large cities. Plan your route pass through these areas to avoid rush hour driving, which will slow you down considerably and make the drive very stressful. Also, you don’t want to be in the middle of nowhere when it’s mealtime. If possible, drive through mid-size towns during that time so you can stop and have a good meal. It will be fun and relaxing, and you’ll be ready for more driving.

Stay hydrated while traveling

Drinking plenty of water keeps you alert and rested, and makes you a better driver. It will also help you avoid fatigue after you arrive. It may mean a few more bathroom stops, but a quick stop doesn’t make you lose much time, and will definitely make you feel better.

Keep the kids happy -- and busy -- during the trip

Letting the children know in advance how long the trip will take, and plot out some stopping points that they can look forward to during the drive. Let each one of them have a “car bag” that they can choose what to put in it. Suggest their favorite blankets or stuffed animals if they’re small, so they can have a familiar item to play or snuggle with. You may all be trapped in a car for the better part of the day, but if you try to keep it fun with little games like spotting license plate from other states, or finding the alphabet, in order, on highway signs or cars it will help break the monotony. Keep favorite snacks handy to keep them from getting hungry between meal stops, and point out interesting landmarks or points of interest along the way. Listen to music the entire family likes (if that’s possible), and invest in a portable DVD player for watching movies if your car doesn’t have one built in.

Traveling by car can be a great time for a family, or even a couple, to reconnect. The trip may take hours, and with everyone in the same ‘room’ for a change, conversations can take place that would not happen on an airplane with strangers present. Who knows, by the time you get to Grandma’s house, the entire family may be closer then ever!

All it takes is a little planning.

Sources:, and