Is your new vehicle so soundproof it’s preventing you from hearing emergency vehicles?

HOUSTON – It’s no secret that Houstonians aren’t known to be the best drivers.

But how about this question - Do our driving habits on the road keep first responders from saving lives?

All drivers should know that when you see lights and hear sirens, you need to move over.

However, the reality is - we aren’t doing that.

What Is The Move Over Law?

In 2003, the State of Texas enacted a new law with the nickname “The Move Over Law.”

The rules are pretty clear in the name of the law. Drivers are required to move over when they see emergency crews on the side of the road.

“In Texas, it was enacted in 2003, but in 2023, they actually made the penalties harsher for violators,” explained Tess Rowland with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. “For a first-time offense, you could face a fine of up to $1,250. And for an offense that involves serious bodily injury to another, you could be paying as much as $4,000, and even potentially face jail time.”

The beefed-up version of the law introduced to drivers in 2023, not only requires motorists to move over for emergency responders but anyone with their lights on, including TxDOT workers, sanitation crews and more.

If you’re driving down the road and see a vehicle stopped with warning lights on, you are required by Texas law to vacate the nearest lane (or “move over”). If you can’t get over, you need to reduce your speed to 20 miles per hour below the posted speed limit.

“It’s so important because, ultimately, we need to protect those who protect you,” Rowland said.

Does this sound familiar to other states you’ve driven through? It’s because all 50 states have adopted the Move Over Law to some degree.

“The fines and penalties vary from state to state, but the bottom line is the same,” Rowland said. “You see those flashing lights? Do you see that vehicle that is stopped on the roadway? Simply move over.”

It’s this very law that was enacted to help save the lives of those working on the road or responding to roadside emergencies.

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office recently lost one of its own when someone didn’t move over during a traffic accident investigation.

Deputy John Coddou was killed when a truck veered off the road and hit him in April.

“It’s frustrating because at the end of the day, you know, this is our life on the line,” said Deputy Mohammad Amad, an accident investigator with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. “It’s sad to know that people have no regard and no respect for our life.”

KPRC 2′s Gage Goulding joined Deputy Amad for a ride along to see first-hand how Houston drivers are adding an avoidable risk to deputies’ work enforcing traffic laws.

In the two hours our cameras were rolling, Houston drivers didn’t move over for officers stopped on the side of the road.

Deputy Amad had to wait to open his door to get out of his patrol car because vehicles were speeding by in the lane closest to his car.

One driver Deputy Amad pulled over didn’t move over for another deputy who was on a traffic stop.

“He hasn’t slowed down to 20,” Deputy Amad explained as he pulled the pickup truck over.

Deputy Amad: “Hello, sir. How are you doing? I’m Deputy Amad with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, can I get your driver’s license and proof of insurance? Okay, Mr. Clark, are you familiar with the move-over law?

Driver: “Uhhh. No.”

Little did Mr. Clark know, he wasn’t going home with a ticket, but rather an education.

Deputy Amad: “Mr. Clark, before I let you go. What’s the move law again?”

Driver: “Reduce speed and get over. If you can’t get over, reduce your speed, whatever the posted speed limit is, down by 20.

Yielding To Emergency Vehicles

It’s not just moving over for vehicles with flashing lights on the side of the road. Texas law also requires drivers to get out of the way for emergency vehicles responding with lights and sirens on.

“If you hear lights and sirens, somebody needs help and we’re trying to get to them,” said Marty Lancton, President of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association.

It’s not uncommon for Houston firefighters to be caught up in traffic while the person needing their help is forced to wait.

The Houston Fire Department allowed KPRC 2 inside their engine responding to calls to see firsthand.

“Clear over there? Clear, right,” asked the engineer.

“Hey, you got a car on your left. There it goes. There it goes,” said the captain of the truck.

Someone not paying attention or simply in too much of a hurry to yield to an emergency vehicle kept driving along the street, forcing the fire engine to come to a complete stop for several seconds with its lights on and sirens blaring.

“The ability for emergency apparatus, to get past you is not because somebody likes to play with lights and sirens,” Lancton said. “It has real consequences.”

In another instance, a dashcam video shows a Houston Fire Department ladder truck going the wrong way down a street to get around backed up and stopped traffic.

Each of these instances costs firefighters and EMS teams valuable seconds in their response time.

A fire can double in size every 30 seconds.

When someone is having a heart attack, brain cells can start dying after just five minutes.

“The survivability goes considerably down every second and every delay that it takes us to get to The people they call 911,” Lancton said.

Is Your Vehicle Snuffing Our Sirens?

While distractions like your phone and radio play a factor, the vehicle you drive might also be to blame.

Studies show newer cars come with better soundproofing, which can snuff out the sound of sirens.

Could your car be part of a problem?

We put several vehicles to the test, including a Tesla, which is marketed to be a quiet cabin.

Our test started with getting a baseline sound reading of a Houston Fire Department siren from 50 feet away outside of a vehicle. That reading was 95.2db.

We tested four different vehicles, each with different model years and styles, to learn how the siren was impacted by the build and soundproofing of the vehicles.

Measurements of the sound level of an emergency siren measured at 50 feet away. (Copyright 2024 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

The loudest of all the vehicles was the Tesla Model 3, which measured the siren at 43.2 db. The quietest was the Chevy Tahoe, which measured the siren at 38.5 db.

Our test opposes what other studies say in regards to newer cars being more soundproof.

However, every vehicle cut the sound of the siren in half, meaning with the radio and AC turned up, you likely wouldn’t hear the siren from 50 feet away.

Gage: “Is there a way to combat the noise cancellation issue?”

Marty: “You know, I think it really gets back to whether the driver was paying attention to their surroundings.”

To learn more about the Move Over Law in Texas, visit TxDOT.

About the Authors

Gage Goulding is an award-winning TV news reporter and anchor. A native of Pittsburgh, PA, he comes to Texas from Fort Myers, FL, where he covered some of the areas most important stories, including Hurricane Ian.

A creative force with a lifelong passion for the arts. Exploring the realms of acting, singing, and film at an early age. With nearly 100 original songs, he is a BMI-published author, his music resonates on all major platforms, international video, films and Netflix.

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