Please Move Over for Roadside 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.

Wisconsin first passed its “Slow Down or Move Over” law in 2001 with Wisconsin Act 15. It wasn’t until 2013 that the definition of “emergency or roadside service vehicle” was changed to include any vehicle of a public utility, telecommunications carrier, or cooperative association displaying one or more flashing amber lamps. Anytime one of these vehicles is on or within 12 feet of a roadway, the slow down or move over law provisions apply.

It’s an addition that’s welcomed by your local electric cooperative because they were part of the effort to expand the law to help protect line crews.

Protecting line crews is a top priority for Wisconsin’s electric cooperatives, and it’s a safety measure everyone can help with, says Tim Clay, with the cooperative statewide association.

“Electric cooperatives often work in road rights-of-way and are exposed to the same traffic safety hazards as construction and emergency vehicle operators,” said Clay. “Safety has and will always be a critical component of what we do and expanding the ‘Slow Down or Move Over’ law to include electric utility vehicles provides a much greater margin of safety when motorists comply.”

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.

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.

Paul Wesslund writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the national trade association representing more than 900 local electric cooperatives. From growing suburbs to remote farming communities, electric co-ops serve as engines of economic development for 42 million Americans across 56% of the nation’s landscape.