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One Year Later, Wash. Drivers Slowing Down, Moving Over

Cars and trucks on I-5 leave extra room for troopers by the side of the road. Photo by Austin Jenkins
Cars and trucks on I-5 leave extra room for troopers by the side of the road. Photo by Austin Jenkins
This crumpled patrol car is a prime example of the kind of accidents that happen beside the road. Photo by Austin Jenkins
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This crumpled patrol car is a prime example of the kind of accidents that happen beside the road. Photo by Austin Jenkins

OLYMPIA, Wash. – It's been one year since a Washington law took effect that requires drivers to give some extra room to emergency vehicles on the side of the road . The new law doubled the fines for violators and even allows for criminal charges. Drivers seem to be getting the message.

I'm standing alongside Interstate 5 just south of Olympia. There are three State Patrol cars here with their lights on, on a traffic stop and as I watch the traffic coming southbound here almost every car is either slowing down dramatically or moving over one lane to give these guys a little bit of extra room."

Trooper Guy Gill of the Washington State Patrol says there's no margin for error out here. He has countless stories about troopers, tow truck drivers and Department of Transportation workers getting smashed into.

Gill's had his own share of close calls. But he says since the enhanced Emergency Zone Law took effect last January the roads seem a bit more civilized.

We try a different experiment.

We're now in Gill's unmarked car. Up ahead, one of his fellow troopers has an SUV pulled over to the side of the freeway. We watch as a line of approaching cars and trucks, one by one, almost in formation make room.

"Now this vehicle here is following right in line and they're getting over. So as you can see four or five vehicles in a row saw the lights and got out of that inside lane," Gill says. "And that's exactly what we like to see."

But not everyone's complying with the law. In the past year, troopers made nearly 3,500 emergency zone violation traffic stops. Most drivers got off with a verbal warning.

Still, there were 13 emergency zone crashes this past year involving State Patrol and Department of Transportation vehicles. That's up a tad from 2010. But way down from previous years.

On the Web:

Emergency Zone Law:

http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=46.61.212

Copyright 2011 Northwest News Network

Copyright 2011 Northwest News Network

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.