Pennsylvania Senate panel advances ‘Steer Clear’ law revisions
September 15, 2020
One bill on the move at the Pennsylvania statehouse is touted to strengthen the state’s existing “Steer Clear” law.
The Senate Transportation Committee voted to advance the bill to improve safety on the state’s roadways. If approved by the Legislature, the bill would mark the second time in four years revisions have been made to the safety rule.
Advocates say revisions are needed due to an increased number of incidents.
According to the Pennsylvania State Police, more than 7,000 citations issued under the Steer Clear law during the most recent two-year period. An additional 3,200 warnings were issued during the same time frame.
Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Adams County, added during committee discussion on the bill that 35 construction workers and emergency personnel have been killed this year in work zones.
“Just move over,” he implored drivers.
Among the changes being sought is rebranding the law as a “Move Over” law. Other changes include setting a new point system and increasing fine amounts.
Current Steer Clear rule
A rule in place since 2001 requires all drivers to slow down and to move into a lane not adjacent to an emergency response area anytime an emergency vehicle has its lights flashing and where road crews or emergency personnel have lighted flares, posted signs or try to warn travelers. The maneuver is required when possible.
If motorists are unable to move over because of traffic or other conditions, the rule states they must reduce their speed.
Offenders face fines up to $250.
Due to concerns about a rising numbers of violations, the Legislature revisited the Steer Clear law in 2017.
At the time, statistics from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation showed violations of the law increased by more than 85% from 2013 to 2015.
Approved changes to the rule included doubling the fine for repeat offenders to $500. Subsequent offenses would result in $1,000 fines.
In addition, a 90-day license suspension was added for a third or subsequent offense. The license suspension would also be applied to any incident that results in serious bodily injury to or death of another person.
Another round of revisions
Sponsored by Mastriano and Senate Transportation Committee Chair Kim Ward, R-Hempfield, the bill is intended to clarify how travelers should react when approaching or passing an emergency response area.
Specifically, drivers approaching an emergency response area who are unable to safely merge into a lane further away from the affected area would be required to slow to at least 20 mph less than the posted speed limit.
Existing law only requires a driver to pass the affected area at a “careful and prudent reduced speed.”
Mastriano added that the bill would put more teeth into the punishments.
Specifically, a new point system would result in two points for failure to merge into the lane not adjacent to the emergency response area.
Additionally, fines would be doubled for a summary offense: $500 for first-time offenders; $1,000 for a second offense and $2,000 for a third offense.
Bill sponsors say the steeper fines and point assessment should act as a deterrent against repeat offenders.
They add that the proposed revisions would mirror the penalties associated with construction zone violations.
“(The changes) need to be made. The message is simple: ‘move over and slow down,’” Ward said. “We owe it to our first responders.”
The bill, SB1281, awaits further consideration in the Senate.