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Work in Progress

By on July 1, 2009
RoadKing Mag

With the high volume of traffic on roadways these days, more stress is being added to a mature infrastructure system that is in need of regular repair, rehabilitation and reconstruction.

Summer is prime time for maintenance and repairs, as anyone who has tried to navigate a route without hitting construction delays can attest. One solution is to drive off hours. Yet, in an effort to reduce traffic congestion and travel delays, an increasing amount of roadway work is being done at night. This increases the risks to workers and road users when driving through a work zone.

While beneficial in the long run, roadway work zones can be quite dangerous unless drivers use extra concentration, caution and common sense, and think safety first.

Follow the signs
When a vehicle traveling at 60 miles per hour passes a warning sign that states “Road Work 1,500 feet,” it will be in that work zone in 17 seconds.

Traffic and work zone safety professionals encourage drivers to pay attention to the signs posted in work zones as they provide important information designed to protect motorists and construction crews. Be alert and dedicate your full attention to the roadway. To increase concentration, avoid distractions such as eating, changing radio stations and using a mobile phone.

When a “flagger ahead” warning sign is posted pay attention. In a work zone, flaggers have the same authority as a regulatory sign, so be sure to obey their directions. A driver can be cited for disobeying.

If flashing arrow panels or “Lane Closed Ahead” signs are out, don’t zoom right up to the lane closure, and then try to barge in. Drivers can help to maintain traffic flow by moving to the appropriate lane at first notice of an approaching work zone. If everybody on the road cooperates, traffic moves more efficiently.

Some work zones — like line painting, road patching and mowing — move down the road as the work is finished. Just because you don’t see the workers immediately after the warning signs does not mean they’re not out there. Observe the posted signs until you see one that tells you you’ve left the work zone.

Drivers also need to pay attention to all traffic control devices — most commonly cones, drums and barricades, vertical panels, tubular markers and pavement markings used to alter or channel the normal traffic flow.

Watch your speed
Feel like ignoring the slower speed limit of a construction area just because the traffic is sparse? Don’t. Fines, which can start out being fairly hefty, are doubled in work zones when road crews are present.

Speeding is one of the major causes of work zone accidents and is the leading hazard for work zone workers. Getting hit by a vehicle is just one danger. Rocks and other debris kicked up by trucks and cars can do real damage, and become even more hazardous to road workers, your vehicle, and other nearby vehicles the faster one drives.

Be sure to adjust speed for weather conditions. Don’t resume normal speed until roadway signs indicate it is safe to do so. In any work zone, keep your distance between your vehicle and the one ahead to allow for extra reaction time in case of a problem. The most common crash in a highway work zone is the rear-end collision. Also, keep a safe distance between your vehicle and traffic barriers, trucks, construction equipment and workers.

Finally, be extra cautious when you are directed through bypass lanes, detours and new traffic patterns. Temporary bypass lanes can be uneven, bumpy, rutted and potholed.

When a road needs to be closed to through-traffic, detours may be on secondary roadways, rough county roads or even residential streets. If the detours are marked, it is usually with temporary signs that are often harder to see than permanent road signs. Stay hyper aware of everything around you.

Reasons to be careful
Work zone safety is a growing roadway safety concern. In 2007, 835 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes in work zones, and there were more than 40,000 injuries. Those 835 people account for 2 percent of all roadway fatalities for the year.

Federal Highway Administration research finds that nationally, one work zone fatality occurs about every 10 hours. Three out of four of these fatalities are not part of the work crew, but are drivers or occupants. Some 23 percent of the work zone fatalities occur in crashes involving large trucks.

State rankings
According to the most recent statistics, the states with the most work zone fatalities in motor vehicle traffic crashes, in order, are: Texas – 124, Florida – 92, California – 80 and Georgia – 65.

The states with the least amount of work zone fatalities, with just one, are: Alaska, Delaware, North Dakota, South Dakota and Utah.

Source: 2007 Fatality Analysis Reporting System

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