'Move over' law could get stiffer penalty

A sign on the New York State Thruway

A sign on the New York State Thruway alerts motorists to a new law that took effect on Jan. 1, 2011, requiring them to move over for stopped emergency and law enforcement vehicles. (Jan. 3, 2011) (Credit: AP )

Drivers in New York who seriously injure or kill a police officer parked by the side of the road because they fail to move over to another lane would face prison sentences as long as 4 to 7 years under a new bill proposed Friday.

State Sen. Charles Fuschillo Jr. (R-Merrick) recommended the two new felonies one day after a truck driver, who last year struck and killed a Nassau County police officer on the LIE, pleaded guilty to reckless driving, a misdemeanor with no prison sentence.

"This tragedy is a prime example as to why our laws need to be strengthened," Fuschillo, who chairs the Senate transportation committee, said in a statement.

Currently, motorists in New York can be fined $250 to $400 if they fail to move at least one lane away from a stopped police or emergency vehicle whose lights are flashing, unless there is too much traffic, he said.

Violators also can be sentenced to up to 30 days and get two points on their drivers' licenses. But they do not face more severe penalties if they cause death or serious injuries.

Under Fuschillo's bill, a motorist who breaks the "move over" law and seriously injures a police officer, emergency responder, hazard or highway worker would be subject to a Class E felony, punishable by up to 4 years in prison.

It would be a Class D felony, with a maximum sentence of up to 7 years, to kill a police officer, emergency responder or hazard worker.

Spokesmen for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), had no immediate response.

On Feb. 4, 2011, Officer Michael Califano was sitting in his cruiser, with the emergency lights flashing, and writing another driver a ticket when truck driver John Kaley plowed into his car from behind. The crash occurred on the Long Island Expressway near Exit 39.

Nassau prosecutor Maureen McCormick on Thursday told the judge there was insufficient evidence to convict Kaley of criminally negligent homicide -- although she believed he was asleep at the wheel.

Fuschillo also said he was working with the Nassau County district attorney's office to devise stiffer penalties for reckless driving.

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