Move over for roadside utility crews

Every year, workers along the sides of roads are injured or killed when a car crashes into the crew’s site, even though it’s marked with bright cones and warning signs.

There’s an easy way to reduce those incidents that harm police officers and other first responders, road construction workers and utility crews. There’s a slogan to help remind drivers. There’s even a law.

The slogan is “slow down or move over.” It’s good advice and a decent thing to do to keep people safe. It’s also a requirement in all 50 states.

Legislatures first started passing Move Over laws about 25 years ago to reduce the year-after-year statistics of harm to roadside emergency workers. In the past five years, many states, including Tennessee, have started to specifically add electric and other utility projects to their Move Over or Slow Down laws.

It’s an addition that’s welcomed by Tennessee’s electric cooperatives, because we were part of the effort to expand the law to help protect our line crews.

“Protecting line crews is a top priority for Tennessee’s co-ops, and it’s a safety measure everyone can help with,” says Trent Scott, spokesperson for the state’s electric cooperatives.

“Move Over is not only a good law, it’s also the courteous thing to do,” says Scott. “Our crews already perform dangerous work to keep the lights on every day. They deserve a work environment that’s as safe as possible.”

There are slight differences in each state’s Move Over laws, but not so much that you can’t figure out the right thing to do, even if you’re traveling from state to state. Here are the basic requirements:

  • Within 200 feet before and after a work zone, which will be marked with bright signs and marker cones, and often flashing lights, change lanes if there’s more than one lane on your side of road so that there is an empty lane between your vehicle and the roadside crew.
  • If it’s not possible or safe to change lanes, slow down. Many states specify slowing down to 20 mph below the posted speed limit if it’s 25 mph or more. Yes, that means if the posted speed limit is 25 mph, slow down to 5 mph.
  • Drivers must obey all traffic directions posted as part of the worksite.
  • Keep control of your car—yes, that’s a requirement in many Move Over laws. And yes, it is more of a general guidance than a rule for a specific speed. It means you need to pay attention and respond to weather conditions—heavy rain or a slick road might mean you’re required to slow down even more than 20 mph. And no texting, fiddling with the radio or other distractions.
  • Penalties for violating those requirements range from $100 to $2,000, or loss of your driver’s license.

A list summarizing each state’s law can be found on the AAA web site.

Electric utility crews are special cases to watch out for. A study of utility worksite accidents found that the relatively temporary nature of power line repairs could surprise motorists. A roadside construction operation might close a lane for days or weeks, giving time for people familiar with the area to anticipate the changed traffic pattern. Utility work, however, can start and finish in a few hours, possibly raising risks with drivers who might think they know the road ahead.

Another risk to watch for is when worksites are being put up or taken down. Roadside accidents can happen as crews are setting up signs and traffic cones.

My father-in-law used to tell his daughter every time they parted, “Drive all the time.” What he meant was that she should pay attention, and it’s good advice for all of us.

Don’t drive distracted. Drive according to the conditions of the road. Be courteous to roadside work crews. Watch the signs and obey them. And certainly, follow laws like Move Over or Slow Down. It’s good advice that could save a life.

Learn more at moveovertennessee.org.

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