On November 24, 2008, a new federal regulation (23 CFR 634) went into effect, requiring anyone working in the right-of-way of a federal highway to wear high-visibility vests that meet specific requirements. This law applies to anyone who must be in proximity of or in the path of the roadway. Unfortunately, as some local news media have discovered, not everyone is following the law and the result can be deadly.
The vests in question are bright yellow and orange with neon reflection. The vests, intended to provide a higher level of visibility for those workers who must be close to or in the path of highway traffic, are to be worn at all times. This would include construction workers, tow truck drivers and police officers. The original regulation applies to all workers in all situations and does not allow for exceptions. Many municipalities have questioned the order, stating the garment can be a danger in some situations.
The highest priority of the regulation is clear: Worker Safety. “The need to be seen by those who drive or operate vehicles or equipment is recognized as a critical issue for worker safety. The sooner a worker in or near the path of travel is seen, the more time the operator has to avoid an incident.”
An incident is exactly what happened on the night of October 17, 2008. Prior to the enactment of the new regulation, Deputy Sara Jones of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department, was struck by a car while directing traffic around an accident. The 16-year-old driver was traveling below the posted speed limit but was unable to see the officer. The incident happened around 10:30 p.m. on a two-lane road in rural Monroe County. Jones had a vest in her patrol car, but she was not wearing it.
Reports indicate that the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department bought vests for every officer and conducted more training after the death of Deputy Jones.
While vests can cost between $25-$75, state and federal safety regulators can enforce much higher fines against highway workers or police if they’re not wearing vests when they should be.
But the cost of a life lost can never be measured.