Navigating your way through a roadway’s work zones can be challenging for even the most careful of drivers. In a work zone, speeds have slowed, the tempers of other drivers may be flaring, workers are moving about, heavy equipment is entering and exiting, and flaggers are signaling. It’s a lot to keep track of under the best of conditions. And, if you are looking at being late for an appointment, you may feel yourself growing restless with the inevitable delays that arise from road work.
In 2016, National Work Zone Awareness Week runs from April 11 to 15. It’s an annual safety campaign that began in 1999 to spotlight the risks to workers and to drivers in work zones. This year’s slogan is “Don’t Be THAT Driver: Work on Safety. Get Home Safely. Every Day.”
Work Zone Facts
Officially, a work zone is any roadway area where work activities are occurring, such as road maintenance, utility work, and construction. Work zones extend from the first warning sign or flashing lights on a work vehicle to the last sign or indicator that the end of work has been reached. Some of the items you will see marking work zones are signs, barriers, work vehicles (with or without flashing lights), marks on the roadway, and devices that channel traffic.
Work zones are dangerous places. Drivers get into accidents that kill hundreds and injure thousands. Workers suffer, too: approximately 20,000 of them are injured every year in road construction work zones; in 2010, 106 workers died. Collisions between workers and vehicles or other mobile equipment are the second most common reason for worker deaths.
When it comes to work zone crashes involving drivers and their passengers, there were 669 total fatalities during 2014 in the U.S. In 2012, the estimate for the number of crashes that caused non-fatal injuries added up to 21,000. However, the estimates of injuries during recent years run as high as 40,000 per year in the U.S. Work zone accidents involving large trucks cause more than their share of fatalities: in 2012, large truck crashes in work zones killed 129 persons and injured roughly another 3,000.
When it comes to work zone crashes, around four out of five fatalities involve drivers and passengers, not highway workers. Some other facts of interest that you might not know are:
- The most common kind of work zone crash is a rear-ender.
- Most fatal work zone accidents happen on roads where the speed limit is higher than 50 mph.
- Summer and fall are the times of year when the most fatal work zone crashes happen.
- Drivers are the ones most likely to die in work zone accidents.
- Working-age adults account for most of the fatalities.
- The most dangerous areas in work zones are where traffic is entering or leaving the zone. This is because drivers may be merging or changing lanes at the beginnings and ends of work zones.
Reasons for Work Zone Crashes
Many factors play into work zone accidents, but they can generally be grouped into two kinds: driver error and construction crew error. Driver mishaps cause the majority of work zone collisions. The most common driver errors are ones you will likely recognize:
- Following too closely (tailgating)
- Unsafe lane changing or movement
- Unsafe speeds
- Not yielding the right-of-way
- Driver distraction
- Failing to obey signs
- Driver impairment/DUI
- Unsafe driving according to the weather conditions.
But collisions are not always the driver’s fault. Work crews can create conditions through their negligent actions. Some examples of such actions are:
- Leaving objects in the roadway: tools, equipment, road-building materials, refuse, or poorly-parked vehicles
- Not providing sufficient warning to drivers that a work zone is ahead
- Not providing sufficient warning of dangers ahead, such as rough pavement, drop-offs, or uneven lanes
- Not directing traffic when needed, or not directing it clearly and safely.
Negligent actions of careless drivers which result in serious injuries or fatalities can be grounds for a lawsuit, as can the negligent actions of workers.
Be safe and keep others safe by employing these tips for navigating work zones:
- Be patient. Did you know it takes only one more minute to drive through a two-mile work zone at 45 mph than at 65 mph? Slow down and calm down. One minute, or even five, isn’t worth damaging your own or someone else’s life forever.
- Obey the posted speed limit. The faster you go, the more time and distance it takes you to react to unexpected changes, such as the sudden braking of the driver in front of you.
- While you shouldn’t exceed the speed limit, be sure to keep up with the traffic flow. Slow-moving vehicles can be just as dangerous as speeding ones.
- Pay attention and expect the unexpected. The configurations of work zones can change rapidly. Remain focused on your driving, watching for speed limit changes, entering and exiting construction vehicles and trucks, changing traffic patterns, and—of course—workers.
- Be ready for other drivers’ actions — they may jockey for position and change lanes unexpectedly.
- Don’t text or talk on your cell phone, and don’t take your hands off the wheel. Distracted driving is always a bad idea, but is even more so in work zones, where the situation can quickly change.
- Maintain a safe distance from other vehicles, especially those in front of you. Rear-end crashes are, hands down, the most common work zone accident.
- Expect delays in work zones. If you need to, reroute your trip to avoid the work zone.
- Pay attention to flaggers and obey them, as well as all signage.
- Consider putting on your headlights for added visibility.
One last suggestion: Before you hit the road, you might want to obtain data regarding the latest road closure information across the US.
We hope you’ll drive safely and sanely through work zones, giving crews the space they need. Keep an eye peeled, however, in case the crews are not equally cautious in return.
About the Author:
Since his graduation from the University of Baltimore Law School in 1988, Steven H. Heisler has focused on making a difference both in his community and for those who have suffered an injury in Maryland. Mr. Heisler is also a member of the LawGuru Attorney Network.