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The dangers of the job for roadside assistance personnel are apparent with every passing car: Any driver error has the potential to cause serious, if not fatal, harm.

That’s why you should always move over into a more distant lane when approaching these vehicles parked on the shoulder. This is not only the safe way to go, but it’s also the law.

Virginia legislators have expanded so-called “move over” laws to protect employees in many fields over the years. The list includes utility workers, such as those at Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative, public safety personnel, tow truck services and Virginia Department of Transportation crews.

State code says that drivers must move over for stationary vehicles displaying a flashing, blinking or alternating blue, red or amber light or lights, “with due regard for safety and traffic conditions.” If changing lanes is unsafe, the law says, “proceed with due caution and maintain a safe speed for highway conditions.” The law applies to highways with at least four lanes, two of which are “intended for traffic proceeding as the approaching vehicle.”

As the law applies to SVEC, lineworkers, for example, might park their vehicles along the road while working an outage. While it is a recommended practice within the cooperative to position the vehicle where it is visible and out of the path of other motorists, some situations make it necessary to park roadside, Manager of Distribution Systems Ben Cash said.

Lineworkers often then retrieve equipment from storage compartments in their trucks.

“This can be very dangerous when working along the side of the roadway,” Cash says. “Having cooperating motorists who are willing to move over allows the linemen to safely retrieve material from the truck. When motorists see the beacon lights flashing on any utility vehicle, it should be a practice to always decelerate and move over for the protection of the worker.”

The law applies only to four-lane highways with at least two lanes traveling in each direction. A violation is considered an act of reckless driving, a class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail or a fine of up to $2,500.

Next time you see a vehicle with lights parked on the side of the road, try to safely change lanes. If nothing else, slow down a bit. Our lineworkers’ lives are more important to save than the few seconds you are trying to save in your travel time.