Whenever a driver approaches a work zone in a motor vehicle, they are met by ample warnings and signals that urge caution. There are orange cones and barrels, yellow-vested workers, reflectors and floodlights, and distinctive, diamond-shaped signage designed to guide traffic safely through the zone. Yet, even with all these warnings, there’s often one more plea: “Slow Down: My Daddy (or Mommy) Works Here.”
Such a vivid appeal may seem a little personal and dramatic at first. Unfortunately, it’s motivated by some hard realities. In the last five years, work zone crashes in the U.S. resulted in over 4,400 deaths and 200,000 injuries, according to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).
Unsurprisingly, more fatal crashes occur in the warmer months, when there is typically an increase in both road construction and travel. But you may be surprised to learn that 85% of work zone crash fatalities are drivers or their passengers. So when drivers exercise greater caution in work zones, the lives they save may indeed be their own.
Safety is a Shared Responsibility
Every road construction project should have a plan for managing traffic and maximizing safety.
Government agencies, nonprofits, and construction industry organizations provide guidelines and resources to aid construction contractors in developing work zone safety protocols. It stands to reason that any company with vehicles should also take steps to educate their drivers in work zone safety.
In that spirit, FHWA urges parties “on both sides of the barrel” to take responsibility for reducing the dismaying number of work zone casualties. For the driver side of the traffic barrel, they offer the following guidelines:
- Avoid eating, changing the radio stations, or engaging in any activity that takes your full attention away from the road. As everyone knows, mobile devices are especially tempting distractions that can wait for later.
Obey the Speed Limit
- The posted speed limit may be lower than usual.
- Fines for moving violations may be increased.
- Most fatal work zone crashes occur on roads with speed limits higher than 50mph.
Keep Your Headlights On
- Work zones provide ample visual cues to encourage safety; by using their headlights, drivers can increase their own visibility.
Pay Special Attention to the Road
- Read the road signs and respond accordingly. Even though you may have traversed this work zone before, it’s likely the conditions have changed.
- Obey road crew flaggers; they’re there to help you.
- Watch for brake lights and don’t tailgate; rear-end collisions account for 30% of work zone crashes.
- Merge into the proper lane as instructed, and as early as possible—not at the last moment.
“Know Before You Go”
- Researchingroad conditions beforehand will enable you to leave early and arrive on time. You may even be able to choose an alternate route and avoid the work zone altogether.
Expect the Unexpected
- Work zones create unusual driving conditions and unexpected obstacles; work vehicles and other motorists may slow, stop, or change lanes without warning. Workers may be present where you don’t expect them.
- As frustrating as delays can be, becoming hotheaded will only worsen the situation.
Although these guidelines may seem like simple common sense, the facts clearly show the need to keep safety foremost in the minds of commercial drivers, especially in work zones. After all, those road crews are working to improve the very roads your fleet and drivers depend on.