Editorial: Review of CHP’s stop procedures is warranted

The deaths of five CHP officers over the short span of six weeks may indeed turn out to be a tragic and terrible coincidence, yet we strongly concur with those calling for a review of the agency’s stop procedures.

Three of the fatal accidents — including the one that killed local Officer Brett Oswald — occurred when patrol officers were stopped on the shoulder of a highway or freeway. Another officer died in a plane crash while on patrol, and a motorcycle officer was killed during a high-speed chase.

Ken Tough, a retired GM executive who serves on the CHP Citizen Oversight Committee, said he will ask his panel to conduct a review of safety procedures for CHP stops. “I want to see what are the common threads and brainstorm to come up with some better thinking procedurally,” Tough told an Associated Press reporter.

We applaud that. Even if a review ultimately recommends no changes in policies and procedures, it will help focus attention on the critical role the public plays in keeping CHP officers safe.

To that end, we also urge the state to do more to increase public awareness of California’s “move over” law, which requires drivers to either change lanes or slow down when they see an emergency vehicle stopped at the side of a road. Judging by comments on numerous websites, many drivers are either unaware of this 2007 law or are confused about what it requires.

As Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger noted, these deaths are sad reminders of the need to be especially careful when we see CHP officers pulled over at the side of a highway or freeway.

“We can all help prevent tragedies and save lives by giving our officers space when they are making a traffic stop,” he said.

The governor called Officer Oswald a real hero who “risked his life day in and day out to protect the safety of Californians.” We join the governor and many others throughout the state in commending Officer Brett Oswald and offering our condolences to his family, his friends and his co-workers.

Officer Oswald was indeed a hero with an outstanding record of public service that included 20 years in the CHP as a patrol officer and as a flight officer, as well as service in the Army.

While many of us never knew Officer Oswald personally, we have an opportunity to honor his memory. We can help ensure the safety of each and every CHP officer in the field by moving over or slowing down for emergency vehicles stopped on our roadways.

California’s ‘move over’ law

When drivers see an emergency vehicle with flashing amber lights stopped on a freeway or highway, they are required to move into another lane that is not immediately adjacent to the stopped vehicle, if one is available. If a lane change would be “unsafe or impracticable,” they must slow to a “reasonable and prudent speed.” The law, originally written to apply to emergency vehicles and tow trucks, was later revised to include Caltrans vehicles. A violation is punishable by a $50 fine, though additional fees can be added depending on the county where the violation occurs.