TAMPA - It's a Florida law many drivers aren't aware they are even breaking. But last year, 18,000 Florida drivers received tickets for violating the "Move Over" law, which requires drivers to give emergency responders a safe berth when parked on the side of the road.
"We need to be able to do our job in a safe manner so we can help the public," said Sgt. Steve Gaskins of the Florida Highway Patrol.
The law states any driver approaching a stopped police vehicle, ambulance, or tow truck with flashing lights needs to move at least one lane away, if possible. If not, drivers must slow to 20 mph under the posted speed limit.
"Give us room to do our job," Sgt. Gaskins said.
It sounds like common sense, but a nationwide study by the National Safety Commission found 71% of people weren't familiar with the Move Over law. Many believe that moving out of the way of emergency vehicles is just a courtesy, not an actual law.
Sgt. Gaskins himself received minor injuries when his vehicle was struck on a traffic stop.
"He was traveling too fast, not paying attention. Drifted over and struck my car as I was sitting inside the car. Almost killed the person who I was attempting to assist," Sgt. Gaskins said.
Tampa firefighter Lt. Danny Gonzalez says with all the distractions in cars, he sees the problem getting worse.
"We constantly see people down, texting, at a stop light, or they're on their phones," Lt. Gonzalez said.
Florida law also requires drivers to slow down and move out of the way of emergency vehicles. The I-Team rode along with Tampa firefighters and saw many cases in which drivers appeared to be briefly confused about what to do when they saw emergency vehicles coming. In an emergency, those seconds can make a difference.
Nearly every state has passed a version of the Move Over law, but the problem still persists. 14 officers were killed by vehicles in 2012.