HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Horry County firefighter Beth Petty was hit by a vehicle while responding to a fatal accident on Jan. 1.
Petty was sent to the hospital with multiple injuries and the driver who hit her was charged with driving a vehicle at greater speed than is reasonable under conditions.
Across the nation, accidents just like Petty’s are happening on America’s roadways on a regular basis and many of the drivers are not facing harsh consequences.
“Slow down in a construction zone because you don’t want the fine and you don’t want to go to jail. That sign hits you really hard like, ‘Let them work. Let them live,’ and I’m like, ‘What about us?’” Petty said. “We’re also working on the roadway. Why isn’t there a similar idea?”
However, in South Carolina and many other states, there is a law aimed at protecting first responders and preventing these accidents.
It’s called the Move Over Law and it aims to protect first responders - from firefighters to police officers to tow truck drivers - but its enforcement is challenging and overall awareness of it is low.
South Carolina’s law states drivers passing an emergency scene need to change lanes away from the scene, if possible, or maintain a safe speed for road conditions if it is not safe to change lanes. Drivers who violate this law are “guilty of the misdemeanor of endangering emergency services personnel” and face fines ranging from $300 to $500.
The law boils down to a simple concept - move over and slow down.
Despite the simple concept, enforcement of the law is more complicated. Locally, few Move Over tickets have been issued by local departments since 2014.
The Horry County Police Department and the Florence Sheriff’s Office said they don’t keep records of the tickets, while the Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office said they don’t keep stats on Move Over tickets.
Compared to the North Carolina State Highway Patrol, South Carolina troopers issued 3,752 less statewide since 2016.
First responders said drivers failing to move over affects their job all the time, so why aren’t more tickets issued?
“You have to look at it on the enforcement side, put yourself, let’s say, in a trooper’s shoes. He pulls a car over for speeding and he’s outside his car speaking with that other driver and he notices someone doesn’t move over. Well, he can’t immediately leave this traffic stop because he has someone stopped,” Cpl. Sonny Collins, with the South Carolina Highway Patrol, said.
Collins added that failing to move over doesn’t always warrant a Move Over ticket because sometimes traffic doesn’t allow it.
Yet in cases like Petty’s, the driver hit a first responder and still didn’t get the charged under the law.
Collins explained the decision to issue the ticket is based on the discretion of the officer. He said multiple things come into play when deciding which charges to issue.
“It’s not just cut and dry right away. We have to look at all the factors of the crash and then make the best determination on what’s the correct avenue to do the enforcement,” he said.
Collins added that in accidents where driving under the influence charges might also be involved, officers may choose to issue a DUI because it’s a bigger charge.
To get a better understanding of how the number of tickets compares with how often these accidents are happening, WMBF also requested the number of injuries, fatalities and accidents involving first responders in the last five years from the South Carolina Department of Public Safety.
This request led to the discovery that across the state there is no way to track the number of emergency personnel involved in these accidents.
According to the South Carolina Department of Public Safety, emergency personnel were involved in 615 accidents since 2014 across the state. However, the department said these accidents could range from a move over violation to a rear-end.
Of the accidents, 121 resulted in injures and six were fatal. However, it is unclear if the emergency personnel were injured or if other driver involved was.
The only way to determine the cause and result of these injuries is to go through individual accident reports. The South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles estimated two years of these reports would cost more than $300.
Yet for the first responders working on the side of the road, the frequency of these violations is a well-known part of the job.
“Anyone who has worked on the highway for a long period of time has had to jump out of the way of a car or has been hit by a car,” said Cpl. Tom Vest with the Myrtle Beach Police Department.
“Just a few minutes of someone’s distracted driving could have been a career ender for me,” Petty said.
This is the second story of WMBF’s four-part Move Over series. To view part one and hear Beth Petty’s full story, click here.