New Move Over Law being disregarded

ALPENA — A newly revised law that could put a $400 dent in a driver’s wallet is apparently not enough to protect roadside workers, according to local road crews who are not seeing a hoped-for reduction in speed around stopped utility vehicles.

Electric, gas, and water workers have continued to report drivers blowing past them at full speed, despite a mid-February revision to the state Move Over Law that requires a 10-mph reduction in speed when passing roadside vehicles, according to Kevin Brown, safety director at the Alpena Power Co.

The law was revised specifically to help protect drivers of utility vehicles making roadside repairs. It also increased the penalties for disregarding established safety measures, setting fines to $400 and incarceration of up to 15 years if the violation causes death or injury.

Responsible for the well-being of his crew, Brown was hopeful the law revision would increase safety at roadside worksites, but his workers, who often have their backs to oncoming traffic, continue to report near-misses as cars rush by within inches of their work. He has seen workers in a manhole, cars zooming past their head without moving over at all.

“When this law went into effect, I was like, ‘Oh, finally, some relief,’ but it really didn’t give any relief,” he said. “It didn’t do anything as far as cars slowing down.”

Alpena Power Co. employs 12 lineman, each of whom requires seven years of training, Brown said. Losing one member of their team, even for a short time, reduces the company’s effectiveness significantly and means longer outages and slower response times for the community.

Even if a worker is not directly in the road, pellets of gravel or even a chunk of asphalt picked up by a quickly moving vehicle can cause injury, striking a worker in the back or head, Brown said. If a worker should stumble or need to move quickly as they work, they could be instantly in the roadway and in the line of traffic before a fast-moving vehicle would have time to avoid them

“That’s why we have those lights flashing, because anything in that little area could change in a heartbeat,” Brown said.

The Move Over Law is designed to protect passing motorists as well as those stopped by the side of the road, Brown said. In a work zone, pieces of equipment sometimes tumble onto the roadway.

“And now you are coming through at 55 miles an hour, you’re not going to have time to react to that,” Brown said. “You’re going to pick up whatever we just dropped — bolts, nuts, washers, things that could potentially come through a windshield.”

Slowing down and moving over is the law, Sgt. Rich Tucker of the Michigan State Police-Alpena Post said, but even those who follow the law need to do so with common sense.

The Move Over Law requires drivers to move into another lane when passing an emergency or utility vehicle. That only applies, Tucker said, if the second lane is clear. Frequently, Tucker said, the driver, in an attempt to follow the law, will move into the opposing lane even if oncoming traffic is present. He recounts being pushed onto the shoulder several times by drivers moving into his lane to get around a traffic stop or utility vehicle.

Instead, Tucker said, drivers need to use common sense. If opposing traffic is present, either slow down to a creep and move past the stopped vehicle in the regular lane or stop completely until the opposing lane is clear.

Police, like utility workers, are put at risk when drivers fail to move over and slow down, and so are the motorists who are pulled over for a driving violation. If increased fines and the possibility of jail time isn’t enough to change driver habits, perhaps a reminder of the value of a human life will encourage those behind the wheel to think twice before speeding past a vehicle stopped on the side of the road.

Brown said he loses sleep at night worrying about his workers, many of whom have small children who need their parents to come home each evening. Drivers are probably just not thinking about how their actions affect the human beings they are passing, he said.

“I understand,” Brown said. “You’re in a hurry going somewhere. But that guy getting home to his family is just as important.”

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693 or jriddle@thealpenanews.com.