PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Law enforcement officers already have dangerous jobs, and now some Pinellas County officers, deputies and troopers said a spike in reckless driving is putting their lives on the line.
On Thursday, the law enforcement leaders spent hours enforcing the move over law along US-19. The law requires drivers to move over a lane or slow to 20 miles per hour below the posted speed limit for law enforcement, emergency vehicles, sanitation and utility workers, tow trucks and maintenance and construction vehicles.
Yet, too many drivers are not following the law, according to Clearwater Police Department (CPD).
Less than two weeks ago, a CPD officer had a very close encounter with a driver who slammed into his patrol car on US-19.
A split-second decision to talk to the tow truck driver on scene may have saved his life.
CPD Officer Seth Stiers said the close encounter is scary for all emergency workers.
“If he had been in his car, he may not have survived that crash," he said. :The crash was bad enough to not only lift the SUV off the ground but also to spin it around and it had enough momentum to crash into another cruiser."
At the time, the officer’s car was parked. He stopped to assist after a minor accident.
Sgt. Dan Negersmith said it’s a never-ending worry for law enforcement officers.
“I can tell you, it’s very scary," Negersmith said. "There’s many times I’ve been on the side of the road where I can feel the brush of a vehicle as it goes by at 60, 70 miles an hour."
Less than two weeks ago, over a three day stretch in Pinellas Co., drivers hit four law enforcement vehicles on the side of the road. Luckily, none of the officers were hurt. The crashes involved patrol cars from CPD, Tarpon Springs Police Department and Florida Highway Patrol.
ABC Action News rode along with Sgt. Negersmith as he showed us the problem of drivers not slowing down or moving over for emergency vehicles. He said speeding is compounding the issue.
Gail Pitchon is happy to see the extra enforcement. She has lived off of US-19 for several decades.
“It’s horrible," she said. "People are in a hurry, they don’t take their time, they don’t abide by the traffic rules and it’s dangerous on US-19."
Pitchon asks for divine intervention every time she gets in her truck.
“I pray that I get there safely and that I get home safely,” Pitchon added.
Getting home safely is something officers are begging drivers to let them do, too.
“You’re worried about traffic running you over or crashing into you and so it takes a lot of your focus and splits it so you can’t just focus on the task at hand,” Officer Stiers said.
Drivers in violation of the move over law can face fines of $120 and up and may incur points on their driving record.
Law enforcement officers made 147 traffic stops on Thursday alone. They issued 137 citations to drivers, including 68 for speeding and 29 for violation of the move over law.