Utility vehicles in Arkansas should be getting more respect on the highway these days, thanks to Act 579 of 2013, which went into effect in mid-August.
House Bill 1750, signed into law as Act 579 by Governor Mike Beebe, requires drivers to move over not only for emergency vehicles, but vehicles owned by the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department (ASHTD) and its contractors. This also includes utility vehicles, tow trucks, or authorized vehicles displaying, blue, red, amber, white, or green lights that are flashing, revolving or rotating.
“The Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department (ASHTD) started pushing to modify the existing law due to concern over the safety of our workers. We started hearing from other groups like electric utilities and tow truck operators who wanted protection as well. There was obviously a need, and we were happy to include them,” said ASHTD Director Scott Bennett.
Drivers must move to the farthest possible lane or position from these vehicles. If a driver cannot move over for the authorized vehicles, he must slow down and exercise caution, the department said. Violators face a fine of up to $500 and up to 90 days in county jail. A court also may order up to seven days of community service and may suspend the violator's driver's license up to six months.
Entergy Arkansas, a subsidiary of Entergy Corporation serving 63 counties in Arkansas, said it’s still too early to tell if there has been any dramatic impact since the law went into effect on Aug. 16.
“Safety is our top priority at Entergy Arkansas. While our utility vehicles do have flashing lights, our crews are instructed to obey all traffic laws to and from our job sites whether there is an emergency or not,” said Sally Graham, a spokesperson for Entergy Arkansas. “While Entergy Arkansas doesn’t have any hard evidence of its impact, we believe it will certainly be of assistance in allowing us to operate more efficiently and will help keep our crews as well as the general public safe on our roads and highways.”
Graham cited Carmie Henry of Arkansas Electric Cooperatives as the main driver from the utility perspective of the law.