Trooper Jacob Morrison of the Ohio State Highway Patrol says he knows every time he gets out of his cruiser, there is a chance for danger, whether from someone with malicious intent or a careless driver. Local law enforcement officials want to remind motorists to slow down and move over anytime they see a vehicle with flashing lights. Above, Morrison returns to his vehicle after a traffic stop on Route 161 in Union County. (Journal-Tribune photo by Mac Cordell)
For State Patrol Trooper Jacob Morrison, Ohio’s Move Over Law isn’t just about enforcing a rule, it is about getting himself, and everyone else who works along the road, home safely each night.
Morrison said he “probably should be” more nervous each time he parks or gets out of his cruiser along the side of the road.
Morrison said the speed on freeways is intense, “and it gets worse when you are trying to handle a crash scene or you have more chaos going on.”
He said a tricky combination of being observant and becoming desensitized to the traffic allows him to do his job.
“It is something I have gotten used to,” Morrison said, then added that, “any traffic stop you make, they all have the ability to be a dangerous stop.”
He said he expects to be in danger from criminals, but knows that the bigger danger will come from people who have no intention of hurting him or anyone.
According to the Ohio Department of Transportation, between 2015 and 2020, there were 5,226 crashes caused because individuals did not move over for emergency or construction vehicles in Ohio and nationwide each year hundreds of people are killed or injured due to being struck on the side of the road or highway.
Morrison said he can recall at least two crashes involving fellow troopers during his time, caused by drivers who did not move over or slow down.
Ohio’s Move Over Law requires all drivers to move over one lane passing by any vehicle with flashing or rotating lights parked on the roadside.
The original law took effect in 1999 to reduce risk to law-enforcement officers, emergency responders and tow operators. It was expanded in December 2013 to apply to every stationary vehicle with flashing lights, including road construction, maintenance and utility crews.
Morrison said it is a driver’s responsibility to slow down and move over for, “anything that has flashing lights along the side of the road.”
The law recognizes that sometimes it is not safe or possible for drivers to move over. In those situations, drivers are required to slow down and proceed with caution.
Additionally, drivers are required to pull over and stop for an emergency vehicle that is moving.
“These laws are to protect the people who work here,” Morrison said.
The trooper said “a lot of people do move over,” though he added that a lot of people will activate their turn signal and feign a lane switch, but not actually move over.
“The majority of people who I have pulled over for the violation have said they didn’t know it was a law,” said Morrison, who said he doesn’t know if he believes the excuse.
Morrison said he wishes more people could ride along with law enforcement to see the things they see, feel what they feel and make the decisions they need to make. He said the more educated the public is, the more they understand what police do and why.
That philosophy plays out in many of the traffic stops Morrison makes. He said that on most days he “probably writes more warnings than tickets.”
The trooper said that sometimes he doesn’t know until he talks with the driver if he will issue a ticket or a warning. He said that if a driver is honest and he feels he feels he has educated them and their behavior will change, he will give them a warning.
On an afternoon in late July, Morrison drove Union County roads and sat along U.S. 33 for several hours. he pulled over two drivers — a semi-truck and a small white Honda — and gave both warnings for speed.
“I had every legal right to pull her over and she agreed,” Morrison said of the white Honda driver.
He said talking with the woman and giving her a warning was a better solution than giving her a ticket.
He wouldn’t say how fast the woman was driving. He said he “generally” doesn’t even tell a driver how fast they were going if he does not issue a ticket.
He said he tries to give grace, but does not want drivers to count on it.
“Sometimes I have to issue a ticket, but if I can accomplish the same thing with a warning, I usually go that way,” Morrison said, though he noted every trooper is different and even the same trooper can view things differently on different days.
But even on a bad day, Morrison said law enforcement officials have the same goal.
“We are not all bad. We are out here trying to help people,” Morrison said. “We want to see our county become safer. We want to see fewer discourteous drivers. We want to see a reduction in the number of crashes.”
He added, “We are trying to effect change. If I have a positive interaction and I don’t see you again, that is a win.”