Gulf Power lineworker Craig Irlbeck was working alongside State Highway 285 in Niceville when a truck pulling a trailer drifted over and struck one of the bright-orange safety cones he places when he’s working near traffic.
“Traffic is one of the biggest dangers lineworkers face,” he said. “It’s almost as dangerous as what we do in a bucket.”
April 9-13 is National Work Zone Awareness Week. It follows on the heels of January designated as “Move Over Month” by the Florida Highway Patrol. So far in Florida this year, 212 crashes have occurred in which a motorist failed to move over, according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
The Move Over law, enacted in Florida in 2002, is aimed at providing safety buffers for those working or assisting others along Florida’s roadways and to ensure the safety of law enforcement, emergency responders and other public servants while they are performing their duties, with utility and sanitation vehicles added in 2014. If drivers are caught violating the “Move Over” law, they could be issued a ticket, which could result in a fine as well as three points on their driver’s license.
“The law is not just to protect us, but to protect drivers as well,” Irlbeck said. “Anything can happen in the work zone. The slower speed gives you a cushion to react better.”
It’s a risk that Gulf Power crews, as well as emergency vehicle drivers and law enforcement, face on a daily basis — increasing danger from drivers not paying attention and not giving first responders and their occupants the proper buffer to conduct their jobs safely when out on the state’s roadways.
The law requires motorists to move over a lane when passing. If they cannot move over, then they should slow down to 20 mph below the posted speed limit.
Irlbeck said the increased amount of distracted driving — mainly from drivers looking at the cell phones — only heightens the dangers.
“Even when we’re out there waving the flag, we’ll see ‘em coming and we see their eyes are not on the highway and you have to take a step back and hope they stop,” he said. “We don’t have much of a defense. Hopefully, drivers will get used to moving over and it will be as automatic as buckling their seatbelt.”
While driving on Florida’s roadways, AAA recommends the following driving tips:
- Watch for emergency vehicles, tow vehicles, sanitation and utility service vehicles pulled off on the side of the road.
- If an emergency vehicle with lights flashing is parked on the side of a two-lane road, you MUST slow down to 20 mph below the posted speed limit and approach with caution, unless otherwise directed by an emergency worker on the scene.
- Slow down when you see the flashing lights of an emergency vehicle on the roadside, and — if you can — move over into an adjacent lane. If you cannot change lanes, reduce your speed to 20 mph below the speed limit.
- Pay attention to changes in traffic patterns and speed limits, and look out for motorists stranded on the side of the road waiting for assistance.