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Emergency responders implore drivers to follow the law

January 2, 2019

Dale Wochnick drives a tow truck for Bolster’s Towing in Kalispell and he vividly remembers the close calls he and co-workers have had while working at vehicle wreck scenes in the Flathead Valley.

It was late 2012 or early 2013 when he was at one such scene on U.S. 2, at mile-marker 108, with first responders from Smith Valley Fire Department and the Montana Highway Patrol.

“There were four fire engines, two fire-support vehicles, flaggers, signs, two tow trucks, we had flares out, everyone had their emergency lights running and it was snowing hard,” Wochnick recalled. “But there was a woman in a Hyundai Elantra and she drove past nearly all of that before she ran into the back of a fire truck.

“Fortunately, no one was hurt and she said she didn’t see any of the lights or the signs,” Wochnick said with a degree of disbelief in his voice.

He also remembers being on U.S. 2 just south of Glacier Park International Airport when he was loading a vehicle. The flashing lights on his truck were activated, there was no collision, but there was one thing drivers didn’t do - move from the lane of travel next to the berm where he was loading.

“I’d say out of every dozen vehicles, eight moved over, but I want to reach those other four,” Wochnick said.

Montana has had a law on the books since 2001 that requires drivers approaching stationary emergency or police vehicles that are displaying visible signals of flashing lights to slow down and if possible, move to a lane away from the vehicle.

Commonly called the “Slow down, move over” law, it was enacted after a Montana Highway Patrol trooper was killed and 14 other vehicles were wrecked when being hit from behind by inattentive drivers over a period from 1996 to 2000.

A little more than two months ago, a Montana Department of Transportation worker was killed on an Interstate 90 offramp near Billings in a construction zone when the driver of a flatbed truck hit him. The truck driver was later charged with vehicular homicide after investigators said he was driving under the influence.

Inattentive drivers are also a major concern, according to Wochnick.

“There have been many drivers that we encounter that are on their phones, texting, talking, you name it, whatever people can do on their phones,” he said.

The law also calls for drivers reduce speed by at least 20 mph below the posted speed limit when approaching a stationary emergency or police vehicle that is displaying visible flashing or rotating lights on a public highway with a posted speed limit of 50 miles per hour or greater, when driving in a lane that is directly next to the emergency vehicle.

Reporter Scott Shindledecker may be reached at 406-758-4441 or sshindledecker@dailyinterlake.com

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