Why is the wording of ‘Move Over OR Slow Down’ so important?

We have previously published an article about what is commonly known as the ‘Move Over Law,’ but the subject has proved to be contentious, so let’s look at the importance of the wording in more detail.

This post will focus specifically on divided highways.  Undivided roads often require much lower speeds from the passing vehicles, and in extreme situations, possibly even the need for drivers to stop. 

We will discuss the divided highway scenario by talking about a vehicle standing on the shoulder on the right.  Naturally, the lateral aspects need to be reversed if the static vehicle is on the left, beside the median.

This unmodified photograph was taken with a long lens from distance, and from two lanes away from the red pick-up truck. The truck driver easily could have changed lanes, away from the man on the shoulder but didn’t. The expression of the man on the shoulder says it all! [Copyright image, 2020]

People at the side of a road — especially a fast road — are immensely vulnerable, whether they are first responders, tow-truck operators, construction zone workers, or anyone else, and the key concept for making them safer is easy to understand:  Give them a big safety cushion… move away from them so you don’t pass too closely.

Move Over OR Slow Down” is the safest wording and method!

Let’s say you are driving in the right-hand lane and you see a tow-truck and a disabled vehicle on the right shoulder, up ahead. The best thing to do — if it is safe to do so — is a lane-change, one lane to the left, correct? Yes; correct. But everything hinges on that “safe to do so” criterion.

A necessary addition to the equation

It is a sad fact that drivers in America have been taught bad advice and bad technique about making turns and lane changes. So the very first thing that needs to be done is NOT to turn your left-signal on. If there is another vehicle travelling one lane to your left and only slightly behind you, the sudden appearance of your signal while s/he is vulnerably close to you will, at the very least, cause a fright and may even cause a swerve, so straight away we need NOT to be the cause of a bad incident that can escalate into something worse.

For maximum safety, as for any maneuver, it is always Mirrors First, not only to check that giving a signal at that moment won’t cause a bad reaction but also, of course, to make sure a lane change is safe. In turn, this needs to be started promptly so that you have time to get all the necessary steps done, well before you reach the static vehicle on the shoulder.

For any lane change, and assuming that you are in a car, at least two of your three mirrors need to be checked — not only the one on the side you wish to move over towards but also the rearview mirror. In both cases this is to check that there is nobody coming up behind who is planning to come past you on your left in the next few moments.

IF IT IS SAFE — there’s that key phrase again — then you signal and let it flash at least 3-4 times before you start to move across to the left!

“Who does that?” I can hear you yelling. The answer is ‘virtually nobody,’ and the reason is those terrible driving test standards I mentioned earlier. Make no mistake about it; a significant part of the danger at ‘Move Over’ locations comes from incompetent or downright reckless lane changes.

If your goal is to be a genuinely good driver and maintain maximum safety in ‘Move Over’ scenarios then a good, safe lane change is of great importance.

This is particularly crucial when traffic is quite busy. Apart from suitable gaps for lane changes being harder to find, there is also the issue that some drivers may have their view blocked by SUVs or trucks, so that they can’t see either the static vehicle/s on the shoulder or your vehicle, so thoughtful and timely driving by you will help keep other people safer, too.

You can’t safely move over in time?

If it would be unreasonable or unsafe to change lines in the time and distance you still have available, DO NOT TRY TO CHANGE LANES, and whatever you do, do not cut in front of a vehicle that is already in the lane you would like to be in.

The instruction ‘Move Over AND Slow Down’ can cause danger

It is even more dangerous to change lanes into the path of a vehicle that is already there if you then come off the gas or you actually brake. If that other driver is distracted or impaired, you could get smashed into the middle of next week, and in doing so you might even hit the static vehicle and any people you are meant to be trying to protect.

If there are vehicles in the lane to your left and you “Move Over and Slow Down” in front of one of them, then this is exactly what you are doing. Unless there are no vehicles in the lane to your left and no vehicle behind that is close enough or fast enough to start to pass you, then the words “Move Over and Slow Down” can cause a driver to create danger.

In the circumstances described above, the essential requirement is to stay in the right-hand lane and slow down enough to be safe in relation to any people standing on the shoulder (who may also be hidden from your view). Slow down to at least 20mph below the posted speed limit — and more if necessary.* Start to slow down early and gradually to reduce any chance of your vehicle being hit from behind.

But what if the people on the right are in particular danger or there are several of them? (Does that actually happen? Yes, you bet it does.)

In this photograph there are several individuals who could in a split second accidentally step into the live traffic lane. And a good driver approaching any static car on the shoulder will always allow for the fact that there may be one or more people — especially children — out of sight behind the vehicle. [Copyright image, 2019.]

In a situation such as the busy one in the photograph above, passing close-by at 45mph in a 65-limit or sometimes even 35mph in a 55-limit would be potentially dangerous, in which case you would need to slow down a lot more than that “20mph below the limit” rule. And once again, this means that you need to have started your safety process in plenty of time, so that you can slow down gradually and not get rammed up the rear-end by a tailgater! Whether you like it or not, everybody’s safety is in your hands!

If you treat such situations as ‘Move Over OR Slow Down,’ you are doing the work necessary to maximize the safety of yourself and of everyone around you, including the vulnerable people on the shoulder.

In many people’s minds, however, there is one other option, but just like “move over AND slow down,” it can be unsafe. If you use either of these methods you are effectively handing control of your own safety to other drivers.

“Slow Down and (then) Move Over” is the other version that is Often Unsafe!”

What is the golden rule when you are on an on-ramp, about to join the a highway? “Get up to the same speed as the traffic on the highway before joining,” right?

All you are doing, of course, is a lane change from the on-ramp to the highway, and this common-sense rule needs to be the same for all lane-changes, period.

Last but not least, some states advertise this requirement as “Move Over — Slow Down,” but that, too is unacceptable because it doesn’t specify the “OR” (correct) in order to exclude any thought of an “and” which, as discussed above, is potentially dangerous.


Remember that a very high proportion of drivers do not concentrate on safety when driving, so clarity, accuracy and good reasons are vital in any advice given.

Road safety guidelines should never be written solely for the minority of drivers who actively think about safe driving. They must be straightforward so that there are no possible loopholes such as the two inadvisable versions shown above, and they must be simple so that everyone can understand.

Loosely speaking, “Move Over OR Slow Down” is a bit like the firefighters’ instruction of “Stop, Drop, and Roll.” Nobody would say “Stop, Drop OR Roll,” nor would they say “Roll, Stop and Drop.” Accurate wording is essential. You might not think this to be a good comparisons, but we would argue that it very much is. Getting the necessary actions right and getting them in the correct sequence for maximum safety is critical in both scenarios.


Previous article: Move Over Or Slow Down (the wording is important) | Road Safety USA


* The “20mph below the posted speed limit” rule is common but may not be the same in every state. It is up to you to know the laws of the state in which you are driving.

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