RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – It’s a law that’s ignored by drivers every day and it’s putting law enforcement and other lives at risk.
“In the last six months, we’ve had two troopers struck from behind,” explained Sgt. Michael Baker with the North Carolina Highway Patrol. “We had two who were killed in the line of duty in the past eight to 10 years.”
The state’s “move over law” is simple, but many drivers don’t know about it.
Trooper Mitchell’s story
Trooper Matthew Mitchell joined the North Carolina Highway Patrol in Oct. 2008.
He sat down with CBS North Carolina Investigates to share his story.
“You never realize how many people violate the law until something like this happens,” Mitchell said.
The scars on his head only tell part of his story.
In Sept. 2012, Mitchell had just stopped a driver and was issuing a citation for a stolen tag and driving without insurance.
“I was standing on the driver’s side window explaining the ticket and I just got hit,” he recalled. “I don’t remember anything after that point.”
Troopers say the car was traveling about 50 mph when the front passenger side of the vehicle slammed into Mitchell. The impact threw him nearly 90 feet.
Paramedics rushed him to the hospital where he spent the next 12 days in a coma.
“Several doctors were telling my family it’s a less than one-percent chance I’d survive,” Mitchell said. “They said I probably wouldn’t make it through the night I got hit and if I did survive, I’d be a vegetable.”
But Mitchell proved them wrong.
“I woke up and saw all these people around me and my wife came and told me what happened. She didn’t really know how to tell me but she told me and I understood,” Mitchell explained.
Mitchell said the driver told troopers she had a lot on her mind and just didn’t see him or his flashing blue lights. He had a long road to recovery.
“They had to remove both sides of my skull to allow the brain to swell. I had a traumatic brain injury, my left ankle was broken, and they had to put rods and pins in that.” Mitchell explained. “I have several road rash scars. I’ve got them on my face, all over my body really.”
An ignored law
It is just one accident that highlights a law that’s broken all the time.
“I didn’t realize how many people violate the ‘move over law,’” said Mitchell.
General Statue §20-157 requires drivers to “move over” or slow down for law enforcement or any other public service vehicle working within 12 feet of the side of the road, with indicator lights on.
RELATED: Read the statute here
“If you’re on a four-lane highway, motorists are required to move to the inner most lane of that highway,” Baker explained. “If you’re on a two-lane, road you’re supposed to come to either a complete stop, go left of center, or reduce your speed.”
This video shows an example of how to slow down on a two-lane road if you had to maintain your lane.
This video shows an example of driver on a two-lane road slowing down and moving left of center when safe.
This shows a four-lane road with drivers who follow the law and drivers who don’t.
In April, two NCDOT workers were hit by a driver who was later charged with violating the “move over law.”
Police said Darrick Bridges, 44, was struck and pinned between the car and an NCDOT truck. Kelly Lewis, 46, was struck by the car and knocked over a highway guardrail.
CBS North Carolina made stop along Interstate 40 with Baker to see just how often drivers violate the “move over law.” We witnessed violation after violation.
It’s hair-raising enough standing next to cars flying past at speeds upwards of 70 miles per hour, but there’s a lot more law enforcement must consider while making a stop.
“They’re not only thinking about getting hit by a vehicle weighing 3,500-80,000 lbs, but also about the violator in the vehicle, any passengers, and what they’re going to do,” said Baker.
It’s also why so many drivers get away with violating the law.
CBS North Carolina Investigates pulled the numbers and found that last year only 2,800 people were charged with violating the “move over law” across the entire state.
Violating the “move over law” is punishable by a $250 fine plus court costs.
Violating the “move over law” and damaging property or causing injury doubles the fine to $500 and is a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Violating the “move over law” and causing serious injury or death is a Class 1 felony. You can also have your license suspended for up to six months.
But here’s the catch.
“I dare to say nine out of 10 people I’ve stopped for move over violation say, “Trooper, I didn’t know it was the law,’” said Baker.
It’s the reason why Mitchell shares his story.
“People say, ‘You’re lucky!’ Luck had nothing to do with it, just the Lord above. I’m a miracle,” said Mitchell.
Mitchell eventually returned to work with a new appreciation for life and a new message for all drivers.
“It’s real important to slow down, pay attention until you safely get by. “I don’t want anybody to have to go through what I went through and what my family went through by just a careless act of not paying attention,” Mitchell said.