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Police stop 226; Butler is warned

A couple hundred drivers found out the hard way that local police are serious about enforcing the state's "move over" law.

Officers from Pinellas Park, St. Petersburg and St. Pete Beach handed out 200 tickets this month to drivers who failed to pull over or slow down for a police car parked on the side of 49th Street N with its lights flashing.

Officers also handed out 26 warnings during the traffic sting. One went to Pinellas Park council member Rick Butler, who, the city acknowledges, avoided the $111 ticket because of his position.

Officers have discretion when deciding whom to ticket and whom to warn, especially when the infraction is civil and not criminal, Pinellas Park police spokesman Sandy Forseth said. Many times, Forseth said, the decision whether to ticket hangs on the facts. In this case, the decider was Butler's elected position.

"He did not write a ticket because he's a city councilman," Forseth said. "Because he was a city councilman, he used discretion in not writing the ticket."

Butler said, "That's not even worth responding to. There were a lot of people who got warnings that day."

The sting, at 49th Street and 90th Avenue N, came a couple of weeks after officers put up signs reminding drivers of the state's move-over law. Those signs were still in place during the sting, Forseth said.

Police parked two city cars, one with its lights flashing, at the side of the road and waited from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. to see who failed to pull over or slow down. In addition to the 226 tickets and warnings, they handed out two tickets for speeding, 33 for seat belt violations, six other moving violations, seven for nonmoving violations, such as outdated tags, and one for ignoring a stop sign. They also arrested two drivers.

Butler, who was driving his new Smart Car, said Tuesday that he saw the police car along the road with its flashing lights but did not think about slowing down or moving over because he did not see an officer.

"I'm thinking, 'My God. I wonder if they're fighting in the back of the yard.' ... I was mostly thinking a cop was getting his a-- kicked."

As he passed the car, Butler saw a cluster of police ahead.

"I'm thinking they must have caught him because I see all those cops," he said. Officers signaled him to pull over and asked, "Do you know why we pulled you over?"

Butler explained that he had not been thinking about the move-over law, but about the possibility that "someone's in a fight."

Sgt. Tracey Schofield issued the warning.

Florida's so-called Move Over Act was passed during the 2002 legislative session to help protect police officers and emergency workers who have to get out of their vehicles in high-traffic areas.

The need was clear, according to the Florida Highway Patrol, which says that from 1996 to 2000, drivers crashed into working law enforcement vehicles that were stopped or parked along Florida roads 1,793 times. Five died and 419 were injured as a result of those crashes.

Another part of the same statute addresses how drivers should behave when emergency vehicles are moving (see accompanying box).

Butler said that he's a believer now and is not likely to forget the new law. Last weekend, he was driving along a four-lane road and saw one police officer's car in the road and another's by the side of the road. He slowed down.

"I was okay with it," Butler said, "but the 15 people behind me beeping their horns, they weren't too cool with that."

>>fast facts

The law states:

(1)(a) Upon the immediate approach of an authorized emergency vehicle, while en route to meet an existing emergency, the driver of every other vehicle shall, when such emergency vehicle is giving audible signals by siren, exhaust whistle or other adequate device, or visible signals by the use of displayed blue or red lights, yield the right of way to the emergency vehicle and shall immediately proceed to a position parallel to, and as close as reasonable to the closest edge of the curb of the roadway, clear of any intersection and shall stop and remain in position until the authorized emergency vehicle has passed, unless otherwise directed by any law enforcement officer.

(b) When an authorized emergency vehicle making use of any visual signals is parked, or a wrecker displaying amber rotating or flashing lights is performing a recovery or loading on the roadside, the driver of every other vehicle, as soon as it is safe:

1. Shall vacate the lane closest to the emergency vehicle or wrecker when driving on an interstate highway or other highway with two or more lanes traveling in the direction of the emergency vehicle or wrecker, except when otherwise directed by a law enforcement officer.

2. Shall slow to a speed that is 20 miles per hour less than the posted speed limit when the posted speed limit is 25 miles per hour or greater; or travel at 5 miles per hour when the posted speed limit is 20 miles per hour or less, when driving on a two-lane road, except when otherwise directed by a law enforcement officer.

Source: Florida Highway Patrol

Police stop 226; Butler is warned 08/26/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 2, 2008 3:13pm]
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