Minnesota law requires motorists who come upon stopped emergency vehicles with lights flashing to move over an entire lane to provide a safety zone for those working on the side of the road. Emergency vehicles include squad cars, ambulances, fire trucks, tow trucks and maintenance and construction vehicles such as those operated by the Minnesota Department of Transportation and utility companies.
But the Ted Foss Move Over Law applies only to roads that have two or more lanes running in the same direction, so it doesn’t cover a majority of city streets and county roads.
Common sense should tell drivers on two-lane roads to slow way down or stop until it is safe to pass, but all too often they don’t, says Kellen Schmidt, a lineman who has worked for Xcel Energy for the past eight years. He’s had cones knocked over and his hard hat knocked off by the whoosh created by drivers passing perilously close to his parked bucket truck.
“Electricity used to be the number one hazard on the job,” he said last week while taking a break from moving power lines along County Road 30 in Mayer, Minn.
“Today it is traffic.”
That makes Schmidt, of Belle Plaine, extremely nervous. So he is leading the charge to amend the Move Over Law to include a provision that would require drivers to slow down to a speed that is safe for the existing traffic conditions when passing emergency or maintenance vehicles stopped on roads with only one lane of travel in each direction. That is similar to how the law reads in neighboring Wisconsin.
Schmidt says Xcel has been lucky that none of its workers have been killed. But it takes only one driver not paying attention.
“We are just camouflage out here now,” Schmidt said. “Somebody is going to die.”
He cites a 2011 incident in which two highway workers in a ditch were killed by a car that overcorrected, got out of control and plowed into them alongside Interstate 35W in Burnsville as a reason the law needs to be strengthened.
The utility puts up orange diamond-shaped signs to warn motorists of work zones. It has even used digital message signs and speed radar indicators in efforts to get motorists to slow down. That has not kept drivers from speeding by.
Minnesota’s Ted Foss Move Over Law was named in honor of the State Patrol trooper who was hit and killed by a passing semitrailer truck while conducting a routine traffic stop on the shoulder of Interstate 90 in Winona in 2000. Foss’ patrol car had its emergency flashers on.
In 2017, the State Patrol issued 893 citations and 2,355 warnings to drivers who endangered personnel by not moving over, said the patrol’s Lt. Tiffani Nielson. Fines can exceed $100.
Schmidt took his idea for the amended move-over law to his employer’s board of directors, which gave him the green light to proceed to the Legislature.
The bill, authored by Greg Davids, R-Preston, recently had its second reading in the House public safety committee. It comes just before the April 9-13 Work Zone Safety Awareness Week sponsored by the American Traffic Safety Services Association and American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
Schmidt says his motivation is to get drivers to think about moving over for everybody.
“It’s about public safety and employee safety,” he said.