By Sgt. Stephen Napoli, New Jersey State Police
As a seasoned officer who has served 22 years with the New Jersey State Police, I’ve witnessed firsthand some perilous scenes that unfolded on our state highways. The rush of vehicles speeding past a roadside incident is a chilling reality that first responders face daily. It’s such a common sight, you may not even give it a second thought. As you make travel plans for the holidays, I want to take you behind the reflective vests to shed light on what it’s truly like to be on the scene.
Highway incidents come in various forms – accidents, breakdowns, and even routine traffic stops that take an unexpected turn. As first responders, we race against time to secure the scene, tend to the injured, and ensure the safety of everyone involved. During these adrenaline-fueled moments, there is always a haunting threat in the back of our minds – the relentless flow of speeding vehicles mere feet or even inches away.
Imagine standing on the shoulder of a highway, focused on your duties, when an eighteen-wheeler or car whizzes past. The wind generated by these speeding vehicles is enough to make you wince, as your attention oscillates between the task at hand and the unpredictable rush of traffic inches away. It’s a dangerous endeavor where one misstep can have grave consequences.
The urgency of our work is made more challenging by a constant stream of motorists who are often oblivious to the scene unfolding nearby. Despite the flashing lights, flares, and reflective gear, motorists often fail to recognize the gravity of the situation.
Responding to highway incidents can take an emotional toll on officers. We witness the aftermath of severe crashes, often involving injuries or fatalities. Our commitment to public safety drives us to overcome these challenges and continue serving the community.
This isn’t a call for sympathy; it’s a plea for responsibility. Every time you approach an incident on the highway—be it a fender-bender or a major accident—remember that behind the painted line are real people, first responders, working tirelessly to restore order. We are not invincible. We are husbands, wives, parents, and siblings. Our commitment to public safety should be met with a reciprocal commitment from every motorist on the road.
The New Jersey Department of Transportation, our partner on the roads, includes the Move Over Law in much of their messaging – and with good reason. It’s more than a mere suggestion—it’s a lifeline for those risking their lives to safeguard yours. When you see those flashing lights ahead, slow down and move over. Taking that extra moment to change lanes, if possible, or slow down can be the difference between life and death for a first responder.
Yet, despite the clear and present danger, some motorists continue to race past, seemingly indifferent to the lives hanging in the balance. It’s disheartening to witness this disregard for the safety of those who have dedicated their lives to ensuring the safety of others. It’s a dangerous game of chance that nobody should have to play.
To the motoring public, I ask you to consider the human element behind the uniform. We are individuals who took an oath to protect and serve. Adhering to the Move Over law is an act of solidarity with those who stand on the front lines.Slow down, move over, and let’s make our highways safer for everyone. The life you save might just be the one dedicated to saving yours.