DENVER - If you've ever had a flat tire on the highway, you know how unnerving it is to stand, unprotected, next to hundreds of cars flying by at high speeds.
In less than a year, 29 Colorado state troopers on the side of highways were struck by passing vehicles. The Colorado State Patrol says that these incidents are not due to wet or icy roads or even nighttime driving. Most of the crashes occur during the day with fully marked patrol cars. The cause is simply careless, distracted driving.
"On Memorial day of 2012 we lost an officer for this very reason," said John Collins, Chief of Police for the City of Englewood. "Officer Jeremy Bitner was on duty and lost his life while he was conducting a traffic stop. When folks fail to move over, the consequences can be dire and in our case fatal."
All 50 U.S. states, but not Washington D.C., have move-over laws. Each law is a legal obligation for drivers to acknowledge safety officers by pulling into a lane farther away from them, or slowing down to pass at least 20 mph less than the posted limit.
In Colorado, drivers may be issued tickets for not moving over. The offense is considered "careless driving" but can become a misdemeanor traffic offense, especially if anyone is hurt or killed.
It was also noted that different challenges occur during winter months. Tony DeVito, Region 1 director with the Colorado Department of Transportation, said that echelon plowing is the quickest way for plow trucks to move snow off roadways.
The method uses two or more plow trucks, each staggered behind the one in front, to clear multiple lanes at once. But the plow blades are wide, and in snowy conditions drivers might not gauge their ability to pass safely.
"We've actually seen an increase in the amount of vehicle accidents involving our plows," DeVito said. "They're big. The safest place for you to be is behind that line of trucks."
DeVito said that a lot of people try to pass plow trucks but end up causing accidents when they collide with detachable plow blade wings.
"A lot of our plows have an extra wing on them, but in a cloud of snow you're not going to see that wing," he said.
CDOT deploys white pickup trucks with smaller plows to handle snow removal in tighter areas, and also to clear debris off roadways.
"A few years back, we had one of our gentlemen on the I-70 mountain corridor hit picking up a piece of carpet off the highway," DeVito said. "If you see them on the road, please give way to them too."