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“Freeway Protestors”: A Legal View

Recently, a trend in protesting the deaths of both Michael Brown and Eric Garner has gained some traction around the United States. Aside from all of the other (several) forms of protesting that have taken place, one of them is for protestors to move as a mass onto a highway or interstate, usually at peak travel hours with the intention of stopping traffic. Effective? Probably. Safe? Not at all. Legal? No. They are often referred to as “freeway protestors.” In several cities including Los Angeles, Ca, to Cincinnati, Oh, to Jacksonville, FL and many more, protestors have been creating human barricades to stop traffic.

While this is a much more peaceful form of protest than rioting and other violent acts, it may not be the best means to get a message across. Children are arriving late to school and workers are showing up late to work. Today, on I-95 south, near the Emerson exit (for those of you familiar with the area) a “Freeway Protest” took place. 95 northbound was backed up for miles while protestors took their stand. In the end, one person was arrested, no one was injured and after about an hour or two traffic was back to its normal mid-morning crawl.

There are limited laws regulating the new trend of protestors shutting down state highways and federal interstates, as this was not a foreseeable means of protesting.   Here are some of the most applicable Florida Statutes, especially where a vehicle is used to stop traffic initially.  However, the violations do not institute enough punishment.  It is extremely dangerous and not only exposes the person in the roadway to criminal liability, but also for any resultant civil liability resulting from consequential negligence.

The most applicable violations:

316.183(5) Unlawful speed.— No person shall drive a motor vehicle at such a slow speed as to impede or block the normal and reasonable movement of traffic, except when reduced speed is necessary for safe operation or in compliance with law.

316.130(4) Pedestrians; traffic regulations.— Where sidewalks are not provided, any pedestrian walking along and upon a highway shall, when practicable, walk only on the shoulder on the left side of the roadway in relation to the pedestrian’s direction of travel, facing traffic which may approach from the opposite direction.

316.130(5) No person shall stand in the portion of a roadway paved for vehicular traffic for the purpose of soliciting a ride, employment, or business from the occupant of any vehicle.

316.071 Disabled vehicles obstructing traffic.—Whenever a vehicle is disabled on any street or highway within the state or for  any reason obstructs the regular flow of traffic, the driver shall move the vehicle so as not to obstruct the regular flow of traffic or, if he or she cannot move the vehicle alone, solicit help and move the vehicle so as not to obstruct the regular flow of traffic. Any person failing to comply with the provisions of this section shall be cited for a nonmoving violation, punishable as provided in chapter 318.

316.194 Stopping, standing or parking outside of municipalities.—

(1) Upon any highway outside of a municipality, no person shall stop, park, or leave standing any vehicle, whether attended or unattended, upon the paved or main-traveled part of the highway when it is practicable to stop, park, or so leave the vehicle off such part of the highway; but in every event an unobstructed width of the highway opposite a standing vehicle shall be left for the free passage of other vehicles, and a clear view of the stopped vehicle shall be available from a distance of 200 feet in each direction upon the highway.

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