BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Every time a police officer’s door opens on the side of the road, a life hangs in the balance.
WIAT 42 investigated how drivers — simply going about their busy day — could be to blame.
Even Doctor McKenzie says Brandon Smith, a Birmingham police officer, is a miracle. He was struck by a car in May while on the job.
“I don’t think I’ll ever be the same person I was before,” Smith said.
He’s an athlete, very active and strong.
“Thankfully, I don’t have any true lifelong disabilities,” Smith said. “Just lots of questions and no answers. So, I’m going to have to deal with it.”
It happens every day.
Distracted drivers who fail to move over, and that one split decision that can change the course of life for everyone involved.
Former Tuscaloosa County sheriff’s deputy Cliff Hembree was struck 11 years ago.
“I was called for backup in Cottondale for a city officer with a gentleman he had stopped with a DUI violation who had a pistol,” Hembree said. “I stepped out of my patrol car and I was handing it to officer Bob White when I was struck by a Nissan Maxima.”
“The first fire truck blocked off the first two lanes of the highway,” Smith said. “I pulled around that fire truck and parked in the first lane and began doing the normal processes in working an accident. That’s the last thing I remember doing and after that I was laying on the ground, my shoulder was hurting.”
Both were struck by a driver who did not move over.
Four years in a coma, months in rehab and severe injuries later, Hembree’s 10 year career in law enforcement ended in 2003.
“Even the ICU nurse said when I came out of my coma, she said, ‘Cliff, you just don’t know how close you came to death through your coma, too,’” Hembree said.
In 2009, Hembree’s near death experience helped spur lawmakers to pass Alabama’s “Move Over Law”.
“For them to see me up walking and talking, that makes a big impact and helps them to learn to enforce that law,” Hembree said.
You see blue lights flashing on roadways and usually notice it’s a marked car. You may think traveling the interstate that it’s an easy sight to see, but failing to move over is a problem that may cost you big bucks and possibly someone else’s life.
Sargent Steve Jarrett says the first ticket for failure to move over is $25 plus court costs. Second and third offenses increase from there.
It may not seem like a lot of money for some, but it’s the safety of first responders that is the focus of enforcing a driver’s split decision.
“You’ve got traffic passing at highway speeds just inches away from you. You’ve got motorists that are distracted, under the influence, simply just not paying attention,” Jarrett said. “So, it’s a primary focus for us as far as our safety.”
So we wanted to know how many drivers failed to abide by the law.
We pointed our camera toward a patrol car, and within seconds multiple vehicles failed to move over.
“Things happen so fast out here, especially at highway speeds,” Jarrett said. “One mistake, one miscue can cause a major crash.”
Those mistakes will cost Hembree and Smith for the rest of their lives.
The “Move Over” law states that you must allow a lane for emergency crews, utility workers and garbage collectors.
If you cannot move over, you must slow down at least 15 miles per hour below the speed limit.
Copyright 2014 WIAT 42 News