The “Ambrose-Searles” Move Over law was named in honor of two law enforcement officers who were struck and killed by oncoming traffic while attending to stopped vehicles at the roadside. They were both only 31 years old.
Glen M. Searles
Deputy Sheriff Glen M. Searles was killed in 2003 when he was struck by a vehicle while assisting a stranded motorist on I-481 in the Syracuse suburb of Dewitt.
On November 29, 2003, while returning to his patrol car to retrieve flares, the distracted driver of a minivan swerved into Deputy Searles and his patrol car. Deputy Searles was pinned between the two vehicles and died from his injuries.
Deputy Searles had served with the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Department for two years, and had previously served as an investigator with the medical examiner’s office. He is survived by his fiancée, parents, brother, and nephew. He was 31 years old when his life was claimed in the line of duty.
Robert W. Ambrose
Trooper Robert W. Ambrose was killed in 2002 when his Troop Car was struck from behind by a vehicle on the New York State Thruway in the City of Yonkers.
On December 23, 2002, Trooper Ambrose was investigating a property damage automobile accident when a speeding vehicle, operated by a 20-year old intoxicated driver of an SUV travelling over 80mph, lost control and struck the rear of his Troop Car. Upon impact, his patrol car burst into flames and Ambrose was burned alive inside his vehicle. Also killed in the accident was the 20-year old intoxicated driver and an individual from the original accident Trooper Ambrose had been investigating.
Trooper Ambrose was a five-year veteran of the State Police and had served in Troops K, F and T. He was assigned to SP Tarrytown at the time of his death.
Timeline of Events
By 2008, forty states had established “move over” laws. The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), Section 2014, First Responder Roadside Vehicle Safety, required the National Highways Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to develop and implement a comprehensive program to address the safety of first responders across the United States. In 2004, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) published the Emergency Vehicle Safety Initiative with recommendations for reforms on highway safety. In 2009, New York’s Senate introduced it’s first attempt at a state “move over” law, which was made effective in 2011. Exactly one year later, the law was modified to include not only police, fire trucks and ambulances, but also hazard vehicles, such as tow trucks.
April 27, 2009
New York State Senators William T. Stachowski and Martin Malave Dilan” introduced the “Ambrose-Searles move over act” to amend the Transportation Law. The bill was amended several times and and given Print Number 4647B before being submitted to the various committees and, eventually, for vote on the Senate floor.
June 16, 2010
After passing through the Transportation Committee, Codes, and Rules, Bill S4647B, “An act to amend the vehicle and traffic law, in relation to enacting the ‘Ambrose-Searles move over act’ passes the Ny State Senate and is delivered to the NY State Assembly. The vote on the Senate floor includes 61 “ayes” and 1 “excused”.
June 29, 2010
Bill S4647B passes the NY State Assembly by majority vote and is returned to the Senate for delivery to the governor’s office.
August 3, 2010
Bill S4647B is delivered to Governor David Paterson for consideration.
August 13, 2010
The Ambrose-Searles Move Over Act is signed into law by Governor David A. Paterson in Albany, NY. LAWS OF NEW YORK, 2010, CHAPTER 387.
January 1, 2011
The Ambrose-Searles move over act comes into effect as New York’s first “Move Over” law. It is recorded as section§ VTL 1144-A to the state Vehicle & Traffic law. All motorists are now required to:
- Use care when approaching an emergency vehicle that displays red and/or white emergency lighting.
- Reduce speed on all roads and highways.
- Move from the lane adjacent to the emergency vehicle on Parkways and other controlled access highways with multiple lanes, unless traffic or other hazards exist to prevent doing so safely.
Penalties for violations of the new law include a $275.00 fine and 2 points added to the NY driving history or, abstract of operator’s record.
January 1, 2012
Exactly one year after its introduction, New York’s move over law is modified to include not only police, fire trucks and ambulances, but also hazard vehicles such as tow trucks. Penalties are also increased, making each violation a 3-point offense.
Enforcement & Controversy
Since its introduction, the Ambrose-Searles move over law has had its share of critics. Proponents justify the need for such a law given continuing fatalities for police and other emergency workers at the side of the road. Others claim the law is only intended as another source of revenue from traffic tickets in a state that is already overly tough on drivers.
“Emergency response personnel put their lives on the line every day while protecting the public on our highways. The Ambrose-Searles Act is a sensible and practical law to help ensure that our state’s hard-working emergency responders can perform their duties out of harm’s way.”
Unlike other states such as Florida, for example, New York’s move over law has no indication of how much a motorist is required to slow down when passing a stopped emergency vehicle. Among the defenses heard by those ticketed with a 1144-a citation is that the parked, stopped, or standing vehicle was not displaying emergency lights; or that there was not enough time to safely move to an open lane safely given the traffic conditions. Attorney Matthew Weiss notes that some police officers are using the Move Over law to trap motorists by lying in wait, sometimes with no lights turned on, for drivers that fail to comply with the new traffic requirements. Although the state employed electronic display signs on major highways in major urban areas like Albany’s Capital District to notify travelers of the new requirements, many claimed to have never heard of the move over law.
Some local justice courts, responsible for hearing traffic matters throughout New York state, have taken a hard-line stance against drivers accused with not moving over for emergency workers. Broome County, for example, has a zero-tolerance policy and will not offer any reduction of charge for 1144-a tickets. Other individual courts, like the Bethlehem Town Court in Albany County, have adopted similar policies for their jurisdiction where the District Attorney has remained neutral.
Some vehicle & traffic attorneys argue that the no-reduction policies create a de-facto guilty verdict for motorists and are unnecessarily burdensome as they require accused drivers to physically appear in court for trial. Many drivers, especially those ticketed on interstate areas like New York’s I-87 Thruway or the Taconic State Parkway (TSP) are often far away from their home at the time they are pulled over. “A trip back to court to defend oneself,” says attorney Ken McCauley, “not only requires the defendant to expend a great deal of time and money traveling to what is often a remote courthouse, but forces them to pay a great deal more money in legal fees than your typical speeding or other traffic ticket. Cases that go to trial are also significantly more expensive than those resolved via plea bargain. This is a penalty in itself and presumes the driver is guilty-as-charged. It give a great deal of deference to law enforcement officials – perhaps too much.”
Years later, attorneys continue to receive complaints from clients that they were not aware of the requirements of the law. While ignorance is never a positive defense in any legal case, it becomes increasingly useless as a move over law “victim” to raise the issue. Even out-of-state drivers that were unaware of New York’s law must be increasingly apprised of similar statutes now adopted by almost every state in the Union. Despite this, the Ambrose-Searles law continues to be an bone of contention, particularly during special traffic violation targeting campaigns known as “Speed Week” that target speeding, reckless & distracted driving, as well as “Move Over” law violations.