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Special Crews Electricians Michael Flores (left) and Edward Garcia mix cement on the roadside for theft-resistant electrical pull boxes used for freeway lighting.

MOVE OVER, SLOW DOWN – IT’S THE LAW
by  Maria Raptis
Issue Date: 12/2009

CALIFORNIA’S REVISED “MOVE OVER” LAW ADDS CALTRANS FLASHING AMBER LIGHT VEHICLES TO A PROTECTED GROUP

A new law goes into effect on January 1 that increases safety measures for all Caltrans highway workers.

The “Move Over/Slow Down” law, signed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenneger in October, adds Caltrans vehicles (with flashing amber warning lights) to the list of other emergency responder vehicles working roadside that require all motorists to move over or slow down when they see them. The revised law also removes a pre-existing 1/1/10 sunset date (when the law terminates), which now makes the safety protections permanent.

“This protects the safety of our workers,” said Caltrans Director Randy Iwasaki. “Highway workers face the same dangers from fast moving traffic as emergency personnel and tow-truck operators. We appreciate the leadership and recognition of the legislature and governor of the need to provide a safer working environment for our employees.”

The new law, introduced as Senate Bill 240 by Senator Roderick Wright, District 25 (Inglewood), takes effect on January 1, 2010. At that time, motorists will have to slow down and, if safe, move over to a lane not immediately adjacent to the stationary vehicle. The law does not apply when the vehicle with flashing warning lights is not adjacent to the freeway or is separated from the freeway by a protective physical barrier. Current law requires motorists to only yield to law enforcement, emergency responders or tow truck operators who are working on the roadside.

While the new law amends Vehicle Code Section 21809, it’s not about vehicles; it’s about the safety of people. (Click here to view Public Service Announcement)

“Too many highway workers have died in line of duty,” said Dan Freeman, Caltrans District 7 Deputy District Director for Maintenance. “This law is about promoting highway safety and giving Caltrans workers more protection. I hope that it will put a stop to the senseless injuries and fatalities for roadway worker emergency responders who are just doing their jobs.”

The Maintenance Division, which Freeman oversees, employs over 1,000 people who are responsible for the upkeep, restoration, landscape, litter and graffiti removal and maintenance design of the state highway system in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties.

Another Caltrans roadside working crew is the Transportation Management Team (TMT), a dynamic group of emergency responders who are available 24/7 to provide traffic management during freeway incidents by queue monitoring, detour routing, some incident clean-up, and communication with the Los Angeles Regional Transportation Management Center (LARTMC), the hub for traffic and freeway incident management in District 7.

“District 7 road crews are out there to make it safe for the motoring public. We owe it to our workers to keep them safe, as well,” said Frank Quon, Caltrans Deputy District Director, Operations. “We will continue to provide the highest degree of public safety with the California Highway Patrol and other emergency service agencies. Safety is always our number one priority.”

“We welcome the law extension to include and protect Caltrans workers,” said John Yang, chief, Office of District Traffic Manager, Division of Operations. “Motorists should slow down and move over – not only to avoid the fine -- but to show respect for all roadside workers who could be their friends and neighbors.”

In California, violation of the new provision carries a fine of not more than $50. Comparing other states with similar laws, West Virginia has the steepest penalty: 60 days in jail and a $500 fine; Wisconsin’s penalty is a 15-day driver’s license suspension and a $40 fine.

As a result of the “Move Over, America" campaign, 45 states have implemented laws since 2001 requiring motorists to move over or slow down when flashing amber lights denote roadside activity. California implemented its first “Move Over, Slow Down’ law in 2007 when Senate Bill 1610 was introduced by Senator Joe Simitan, District 11, and Senator Roy Ashburn, District 18. Simitian is the lawmaker responsible for California’s 2008 “hands-free” cell phone law and the 2004 “Wipers On, Lights On” law, which requires that headlights be on simultaneously with windshield wipers.

This year, first-time ‘Move Over’ laws were implemented in New Jersey, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Wyoming was one of the first states to implement the ‘Move Over’ law in 2001 and states currently without “Move Over” laws are Hawaii, Maryland, New York and the District of Columbia.

“One of the biggest hazards is a motorist who does not exercise caution while driving where highway workers are present,” adds Yang. “My observation is that motorists drive very closely to work zones and accident sites. The new legal extension will be a big help to roadside crews by enforcing drivers to slow down or move over. It is much appreciated that the legislators recognize the safety hazards which our crews encounter. I hope that the ‘Move Over’ movement becomes as well-known as “Slow for the Cone Zone” and reaches it intended outcome.”

Since 1924, 174 Caltrans employees have been killed on the job. Caltrans honors these employees annually on ‘Worker Memorial Day’ during April in various ways statewide. In just the past three years, six people did not make it home to their families following a day at work.