Slow down or move over because there's too much at stake

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With summer traffic in full gear it's time for a reminder: Slow down or move over when passing emergency personnel on Virginia roadways.

Of course, that should also apply to roads in any state your travels may take you this year.

Recent events involving Virginia State Police troopers serve as a reminder to make this a priority.

For the fourth time in three consecutive months, a trooper has been rushed to a hospital after being struck and injured by a passing motorist. Trooper P.C. Gardner, assigned to the Virginia State Police Salem Division, is currently recuperating from injuries sustained in a crash last week on Interstate 81 in Rockbridge County.

Trooper Gardner had been seated in his vehicle finishing up a traffic stop. With emergency lights activated, his silver Chevrolet Impala was parked in the right shoulder of the southbound lanes of I-81. The violator had just pulled away and was merging into traffic when Trooper Gardner heard the sound of tires on the shoulder?s rumble strips. When he looked into the rearview mirror, he saw a tractor-trailer heading towards his patrol vehicle. With only seconds to spare, the trooper jumped across his front seat to the passenger side of his car as it was hit by the tractor-trailer.

The driver of the tractor-trailer lost control and the tractor-trailer went through the guardrail and down an embankment off the right side of the Interstate. The tractor-trailer jackknifed and came to rest against the embankment. The driver, Mikel B. Elliott, 57, of Blacksburg, Va., has been charged with one count of reckless driving. Elliott was not injured in the crash.

?While we realize there are risks associated with being in law enforcement, what?s happening on the side of Virginia interstates to our troopers is completely unacceptable,? said Colonel W. Steven Flaherty, Virginia State Police Superintendent.

And such incidents can easily be avoided, whether on the Interstate, along U.S. 460, or traveling any of this county's roads.

Flaherty put it succinctly: ?Every one of the incidents that have occurred this year statewide could have been prevented had the drivers simply complied with our state?s ?Move Over? law or not been drinking and driving.?

That law, as you should remember, requires drivers to change to another travel lane or to slow down and cautiously pass emergency personnel stopped on the side of the road. Violation of the law carries a punishment of up to $2,500 fine and/or 12 months in jail.

But more importantly, violators endanger the lives of the very ones seeking to keep them safe, whether it's State troopers, local law enforcement, or rescue or fire personnel. And the same goes for city, county or transportation crews who find themselves working along roadways.

There's too much at stake, not to take it safe. Slow down or move over or you might just put someone's life at risk.