published Monday, October 8th, 2012

Drivers: Move over, save a life

Travelers on Interstate 75 near Charleston, Tenn., on the morning of the last Monday in September likely remember seeing flashing lights and the traffic jam that inevitably signal an accident. The wreck that morning was much the same as those that too frequently occur along the state's roads, though somewhat different in one important regard. The accident left two men dead, including a man working for an Ohio contractor replacing reflective lenses on the road. The deadly mishap is another reminder that those who work on busy roadways do so at tremendous risk to themselves.

The worker who died was one of many contract laborers and state employees who work to maintain the state's roads. He was killed in a chain reaction accident that occurred when a tractor-trailer carrying live poultry slammed into the rear of another truck that subsequently rammed a Tennessee Highway Patrol Car. The driver of the poultry truck also died. The highway patrolman was injured. Deadly as the accident was, it could have been worse.

Injuries and deaths among workers on state roads are far too common. Indeed, the number of those killed while working there is higher than most think. A monument that honors the memory of state highway workers killed in the line of duty now lists well over 100 names.

TDOT and contract workers, of course, aren't the only men and women exposed to roadside danger, injury and death. Police and fire personnel, ambulance workers and wrecker operators sometimes are victims of roadside accidents, too. The reason for such carnage, safety officials universally agree, is that those behind the wheel of fast-moving vehicles often fail to focus on the road.

Texting, talking on cell phones, checking websites and applying makeup all have been cited as causes for accidents. Changing those patterns of behavior is admittedly difficult.

Tennessee lawmakers have taken steps to promote such change by approving legislation to protect those who work along state roads. "Move Over" laws require motorists to move into adjacent lanes of traffic when safe to do so, or to slow down for roadside workers if moving over can't be done safely. The law is a sound one, but as the Charleston accident demonstrates it is not always followed, despite hefty fines and the possibility of time in jail for disobeying them.

Highway, service and emergency workers have no choice other than to work in exposed areas where drivers routinely fly by at high speeds. They are trained to reduce risk to themselves but that means little if motorists refuse to abide by the "move over" regulations and to otherwise drive responsibly.

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