Police: Drivers reminded to ‘steer clear’ of officers

October 29, 2013
In this image from a police cruiser’s dashboard camera, a large truck drives closely to state police Sgt. Chris Hugar during an April traffic stop on the Parkway North.

State police Sgt. Chris Hugar had pulled over a car on the Parkway North (Interstate 279), just off Interstate 79 south, in the early morning hours of April 6.

While keeping an eye and ear on oncoming traffic, Hugar walked up to the stopped car. Footage from the dashboard camera of his cruiser shows approaching vehicles moving over to the left lane while passing his stopped police car and the other vehicle. Then a water tanker truck passes just feet from Hugar as he stood near the fog line next to the stopped car.

“The left lane was available,” said Hugar, who is now assigned to the Washington station of Troop B. “He wasn’t going fast but I’d say he was going 55 mph. But at 3:15 a.m. there isn’t whole lot of traffic and there was room to move over.”

The driver of the tanker truck was cited with failure of duty in emergency response areas.

“He was surprised I stopped him,” said Hugar, who was assigned to the Pittsburgh station at the time. “Even if you can’t get over, you have to at least slow down.”

“He was even more surprised when he was cited,” said Lt. Douglas Bartoe, patrol section commander for Troop B in Washington.

While it has been law since 2006, police across Pennsylvania said drivers need to be reminded to steer clear of law enforcement officers, first responders, road crews and tow truck drivers. The law requires drivers to move to the left while passing emergency responders. If the left lane is not available, the driver should pass at a careful and reduced speed reasonable for safely passing the emergency response area.

“When drivers see emergency lights, they need to move left,” Bartoe said. “Even if a driver slows to 50 mph, that is still pretty fast.”

Earlier this year, a trooper was injured when a motor home hit the rear of his patrol car on the shoulder of Interstate 78 in Lebanon County. Another trooper was hurt when he was hit by a vehicle while issuing a citation to a motorist along Interstate 81 in Dauphin County.

Drivers also need to be mindful of other drivers who may be working on their own disabled vehicles. John J. Eisiminger, 42, of Waynesburg, was struck and killed in April as he was changing a flat tire on his car on the shoulder of Interstate 79, Amwell Township.

“The interstates are really tight,” Bartoe said. “Drivers need to slow down. And now that roads are going to start getting ice, vehicles can slide right into someone.”

“You have figure the vehicle going 60 mph is traveling 100 feet a second, which means covering the length of a football field in three seconds,” he added. “Things can go wrong quickly.”

If manpower is available, state police working radar have a second car working with them. Bartoe said troopers spotting drivers violating the steer clear law have been issuing warnings and handing out a pamphlet about the law.

Kathie O. Warco has covered the police beat and transportation for the Observer-Reporter for more than 25 years. She graduated from Duquesne University with a degree in journalism.

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