Safety Vests To Be Required for TV Crews on Highways

Breaking-news journalists take notice: Impending Federal Highway Administration rules will require anyone—not just construction crews—working on the right-of way on most highways to wear an approved safety vest.

At least, that’s the interpretation on the blog of the Washington law firm Fletcher, Heald and Hildreth.

“Beginning November 24, 2008, ‘all workers within the right-of-way of a Federal-aid highway’ must wear ‘high-visibility safety apparel,’” the blog reports. “In fashion terms, this means that every time you put a reporter, producer, camera operator or other station personnel on the road to cover an accident, traffic jam, parade, meteorological phenomenon, Bigfoot-sighting, etc., etc., you will need to be sure that those personnel are decked-out in the latest smokin’-hot fashion accessory: a neon orange, yellow or lime green vest with super-cute reflector strips.”

The lawyers explain that back in 2005, Congress passed the “Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users,” known around town as SAFETEA. The package included a directive for the Department of Transportation “to decrease the likelihood of worker injury and maintain the free flow of vehicular traffic by requiring workers whose duties place them on or in close proximity to a Federal-aid highway to wear high-visibility safety apparel.”

According to the lawyers, “Federal-aid” highways include an awful lot of the nation’s asphalt, from I-95 to U.S 101 to most everything else except very local routes and farm roads. Most so-called state highways have federal funds paved in there somewhere.

Put another way, unless a reporter chasing a story can quickly figure out the funding behind a stretch of road, he or she had best don the vest just in case.

Of course, wearing a reflective vest on a busy roadside isn’t just (about to be) the law; it also might actually be a smart idea and prevent workplace injuries, which is after all the point of the law.

The blog surmises that highway workers would be permitted to refuse reporters access to roadsides if they don’t have the required garb. It says vests are available for about $10 to $30.

The blog didn’t mention if there might be a First Amendment argument against the new reg.