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March 24, 2005

Who's most at risk in road construction?

  • The surprising answer: motorists and their passengers
  • By ERIC TOFTE
    Evergreen Safety Council

    Look out! There's a target in the road, or is that a flagger?

    Roadway work zones can be extremely dangerous to both roadway workers and the people that drive through them. Everyone in a work zone, drivers and workers alike, must be aware of what is going on around them.

    Roadway workers have a responsibility for the safety of drivers, but a driver also has a responsibility to himself/herself, other motorists and roadway workers. After all, how would you feel if people drove through your office at highway speeds on a routine basis?

    The Federal Highway Administration regularly publishes work zone facts. Here are some facts taken from a 2003 FHA report:

    • The number of persons killed in motor vehicle crashes in work zones has risen from 693 in 1997 to 1,079 in 2001. In Washington state, there were 28 fatalities between 1996 and 2001.

    • 85 percent of those killed in work zones are drivers or their occupants.

    • More that 40,000 are injured each year as a result of motor vehicle crashes in work zones. There have been 3,994 injuries in Washington between 1996 and 2001.

    • In 2001, more than half of all the work zone crashes occurred during the day.

    • In 2001, the number of fatal work zone crashes occurring on rural interstates was almost 30 percent greater than the number occurring on urban interstates.

    Looking at the above facts it should be clear that people are dying in work zone accidents, and a majority of them are drivers and occupants, not workers in the work zone.

    So what can YOU do when driving through a work zone?

    The first thing any driver needs to do is pay attention. No matter where you are, if you are behind the wheel you must pay attention at all times. Drivers should not read, put on makeup or shave.

    I like to remember what my dad, who spent his life in law enforcement, once said to me, "Driving a car is like pointing a .357 at your temple and cocking the hammer back." I believe he was right, driving is dangerous and not taking it seriously is a disservice to yourself, your family and everyone else on the road.

    In addition to paying attention, here are some other habits to keep in mind:

    • Slow down and stay calm when approaching a work zone. Workers are not there to inconvenience you or anyone else. They are there to repair the roads you drive on.

    • Merge into the appropriate lane as soon as you are aware that the work zone requires a lane change. To assist with this, road workers must ensure all signage is correct and does not mislead drivers.

    • Expect delays when traveling through a work zone. If you know you will have to drive through a work zone, leave a few minutes earlier.

    • Make sure you can be seen. Turn on your headlights so other motorists and road workers can see you.

    • Do not tailgate or speed through a work zone, and know what the posted speed limit is.

    At 60 mph, a vehicle travels 88 feet per second — about a football field every 4 seconds. In the three-quarters of a second it takes the average driver to react, a vehicle has traveled 66 feet. It takes an additional 180 to 220 feet for a vehicle to make a complete stop on dry pavement. If you are speeding and/or tailgating you are going to hit the vehicle in front of you before you can stop.

    Being in an accident is not fun. Even if no one is hurt you will have to spend time dealing with the accident, not only at the scene but with the insurance agent and body shop. If someone is hurt or killed, you will likely have to deal with a lawyer.

    Evergreen Safety Council believes safe driving is important and that driving must be taken seriously. Looking back at the .357 example, if you were standing right now with a loaded revolver, how careful would you be? Are you as careful when you drive? If not, why not?

    Driving is a skill that demands constant awareness. Evergreen Safety Council has developed the EverSafe driving class to provide drivers with the information, knowledge and skills to be safe behind the wheel. The course was developed to assist the employer with providing driving training, but greatly benefits everyone that drives.


    Eric Tofte is a training and consulting services manager for the Evergreen Safety Council in Seattle. He is a certified safety and health specialist, health and safety technician, and OSHA general and construction industry safety instructor.



     

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