News Story

House Approves: $400 For Not Slowing For Roadside Emergency Vehicles

Traffic expert says new law would be ripe for for-profit sting operations

A bill passed by the state House this week brings Michigan motorists one Senate vote and a governor’s signature away from possible $400 fines for failing to slow to least 10 mph below the speed limit when passing roadside service or public safety vehicles with their lights flashing.

Under current law, drivers on freeways are required only to “proceed with caution” and move over if possible when passing police or emergency vehicles with lights flashing. But under Senate Bill 477, drivers on freeways would have to slow to “at least 10 mph below the posted speed limit,” and this would also apply to service vehicles with flashing yellow lights.

The bill does not specify whether “speed limit” means the speed limit for passenger cars, the lower limit for heavy trucks, or the even lower limits in work zones, if applicable.

Importantly, the House also voted to replace the current law’s criminal penalties with a civil fine of $400. Although the current criminal penalties begin with an even higher fine of $500 and can include jail time, they also come with the due-process procedural safeguards that protect defendants in criminal cases, along with a requirement that the state prove a person’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Levying a civil fine is much simpler procedurally as it includes a much lower “preponderance of the evidence” standard if the penalty is challenged.

The House also reduced the driver’s license “points” that are charged for violations of the current law from 4 points to 2 points.

The original version of the bill that passed the Senate last December did not contain the $400 civil fine provision.

“SB 477 is a really bad bill that will cause crashes by putting some vehicles suddenly in the left lane of freeways with a 20+ mph speed differential to other vehicles that are already one to almost two lanes away from a vehicle on the far right shoulder and have no safety reason to slow down to 10 mph below the limit,” said James Walker, a board member of the National Motorists Association in Wisconsin. “The changes in the fines to $400 make it absolutely ripe to be used as for-profit sting operations that have nothing to do with safety.”

Bill bill sponsor Sen. Dale Zorn said in a press release in December, “With this bill, Michigan will be sending a message to all drivers that if they see a vehicle ahead with flashing lights — whether it’s a police car, fire truck or tow truck — slow down and, if possible, move over.”

“Stopping on the side of a road or highway and getting out of a vehicle is dangerous and can be deadly,” Zorn said. “That is why Michigan already requires drivers to take safety precautions in construction areas and when passing a stopped police car or ambulance with their lights on. This bill would force drivers to take the same care around vehicles with amber flashing lights.”

Zorn continued: “Tow truck drivers should not have to risk serious injury or death when they are helping a stranded motorist on a highway.”