It’s a walk Brooke Lawrence never thought she would be taking, at least not now and certainly, not for the son she now has to visit at a Florida cemetery.
“I don’t like coming here. I don’t like to visit my son here,” Lawrence told us during a recent visit.
Brooke’s son, Austin, was just 24-years-old when he died nearly two years ago.
A tow truck operator at the time, Austin was just doing his job on the side of a busy Orlando parkway when he was struck by a driver who failed to move over.
“Broken everything. Broken arms, broken legs, broken stomach, brain injury, brain bleed,” Lawrence described the extent of her son’s injuries.
25 days after he was hit, the father of two died in the hospital. His injuries were just too much for his young body to bare.
“His little boy looked out the window every day, waiting for him to come home. He just didn’t come home. It’s not right, it’s not right,” Lawrence said through tears.
First passed in 2002, Florida’s Move Over Law requires drivers to move over a lane or, if they can’t safely change lanes, slow down 20 miles under the speed limit when law enforcement, first responders or tow truck drivers are stopped on the side of the road.
In 2014, the law expanded to also protect construction, sanitation, and utility crews.
But more than two decades after first taking effect in the state, is Florida’s Move Over law making life on the side of our roads any safer?
“He was on the scene less than 15 minutes when it happened,” Lawrence said during a recent press conference at the Florida Highway Patrol office in Orlando to raise awareness about the law.
“It was totally preventable what happened that day. It should have never happened,” Lawrence told reporters while detailing how her son’s wrecker was one of 6 vehicles parked on the side of the road that day tending to the disabled vehicle when the driver plowed through and struck her son.
During the same press conference, Marissa Cruz had her own recent tragedy to share with the public too.
“Not only was Paul an amazing husband and father in our family, he was our hero,” Cruz said through tears.
Less than three months ago, Cruz’s husband, also a tow truck driver, was also killed by a move-over violator.
“The pain our family has felt is heart-shattering,” Cruz said.
Both Austin and Paul worked for the Johnson’s Wrecker Service when they were killed by drivers who didn’t follow the state’s Move-over law. For company owners, having two of its operators killed in two years by people who didn’t move over is unfathomable.
“Slow down, move over, give us some room,” said Dennis Johnson, one of the company’s owners. “It’s gut-wrenching to relive those situations over,” Johnson explained while visibly frustrated over preaching a law too many are still breaking.
When asked if the law has had the impact he hoped it would have, Johnson responded, “I hope it has a major impact that starts tomorrow or today but it ain’t there yet,” he said.
Across the state, law enforcement videos and images show the shocking consequences of drivers who fail to move over.
Data collected by Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) also revealed their frequency. Since 2015, move over violators are behind, on average, one crash nearly every two days in our state, state data shows.
In fact, a year after the law expanded, FHP statistics show the number of crashes, injuries and deaths from drivers who failed to move over remains relatively unchanged year after year.
According to a recent AAA study, Florida also ranks among the leading states for people struck and killed each year while standing outside a disabled vehicle. This legislative session, its auto club plans to push Florida lawmakers to strengthen the Move Over law by making drivers also move over or slow down for cars that are disabled.
“It’s a good law, unfortunately we still have people who break the law, so we still see the crashes and we still see people getting tickets,” explained Sgt. Steve Gaskins of FHP’s Tampa Bay district.
He said despite taking effect more than twenty years ago, many drivers still don’t know the move over law even exists.
“The drivers who were already driving before this became a law and before this was in drivers ed classes, that’s where the problem starts,” he said.
That lack of awareness was also flagged as an ongoing problem in a 2020 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office. In the report, which examined federal data available on emergency responder safety, researchers studied a handful of state move-over laws, including Florida’s.
“Public awareness is a big challenge because all 50 states have a move-over a slow-down law, but those laws can vary,” said Elizabeth Repko, one of the authors who wrote the report.
Penalties can also vary. In Florida, failing to move over is considered a moving violation with fines typically ranging between $120 and $170., while violators can also get three points on their license. In Illinois, for example, fail to move over and drivers can get hit with up to a $10,000 fine and 15 points on their license.
Dennis Johnson of Johnson’s Wrecker Service believes Florida’s Move Over law needs be toughened up to make a real difference.
“To me there has to be higher penalties, higher fines maybe even the possibility of losing their license or having it suspended for a period of time,” he said.
Austin’s mom, Brooke Lawrence, agrees.
“It’s getting worse it’s not getting better,” she said about the up and down trend of crashes, injuries and deaths due to move over violators.
“They should have to take a class to see what happens when they don’t do that law. How many people are affected when they don’t follow that law,” she asked.
Her family is just one of them, victimized when a law created to protect them, couldn’t and still seems to have a long road ahead to getting there.
“My son had his whole life in front him. He was so excited about just life,” she said.
To learn more about Florida’s Move Over Law click here.
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