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Police offer reminder to move over

Dakota County drivers got a lesson this week in the importance of giving police officers their space on the side of the road.

On Tuesday, police officers from around the county gathered along Highway 52 for a day of enforcement to remind motorists of state laws that require drivers to slow down and move over a lane when they pass an emergency vehicle stopped along the side of the road.

Aug. 31 was the 10-year anniversary of the death of Minnesota State Trooper Ted Foss, who was killed when he was hit by a passing motorist as he conducted a traffic stop.

"It's a sad way to remember a fellow officer killed in the line of duty," said Apple Valley sergeant Nick Francis, the spokesperson for this week's countywide enforcement effort. "But enforcing this law helps keep other officers safe, and reminds motorists that there are lives at stake on our roadways."

The law requiring drivers to give emergency vehicles their space was passed following Foss' death.

Police officers have a number of things on their minds when they conduct traffic stops. They look for potential weapons and other violations inside the car they've stopped and they make sure they are not in danger from any of the passengers, all while dealing with drivers who usually aren't happy to see them. Add cars zipping past just a few feet away and it can become overwhelming.

"Our natural place to conduct a traffic stop is usually on the driver's side of the vehicle," Francis said. That puts us by nature in the danger zone. As the speeds get higher ... it gets even more daunting to stand on the side of the road by yourself with those 3,000-pound vehicles flying by you.

"When a car comes by that close, you hear it. You feel it."

Police officers worked in pairs during Tuesday's enforcement. One would stop a car for a violation, and the other would hang back to provide support and to watch for anyone who failed to move over.

Francis said awareness of the move-over law has improved in recent years.

"It's definitely getting better," he said. "Especially before and after these types of saturation. I think the public is aware, too, that more officers are dying from accidents."

More enforcement

Tuesday's move-over enforcement was just the start of enhanced patrol efforts for Dakota County departments. Police officers also planned to conduct increased patrols for impaired drivers over the Labor Day weekend.

Minnesota police departments have set a goal of 400 or fewer traffic deaths this year in MInnesota. There were 421 traffic deaths in 2009 on Minnesota roads, the fewest since 1944.

"Although we are moving in the right direction, last year there were 421 families that lost a loved one, and countless others affected by these deaths," Francis said. "We take traffic safety very seriously in Dakota County."

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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