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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Construction Zone Safety Month

The latest preliminary construction zone fatality figures have come in for the year 2010 and while there is a little bit of good news, the overwhelming data about highway construction zones continues to be bad. Highway construction zone fatalities fell by 16 percent compared to 2009 but, in spite of that good news, a total of 576 people lost their lives in construction zones in 2010; an average of 1.6 deaths per day. Approximately four out of five of those deaths involve motorists, not construction workers.

A lot of the money in the jobs and economic stimulus plans passed by Congress over the past couple of years was directed toward infrastructure repair. That means that there are a lot of highway construction projects already in work, or scheduled to start soon. That also means that there will be a greater danger of collisions in highway construction zones. In order to make it safely through those construction zones drivers need to be aware of the hazards involved and how to avoid them.

All highway construction zones are marked with orange warning signs. These signs are normally posted well ahead of the construction zone to alert drivers to the dangers ahead and to give them time to slow. These signs will come in a variety of shapes and sizes based on their function. There are diamond shaped warning signs, speed limit signs, and channeling devices such as barrels, cones and barriers. Barriers will consist of orange and white diagonal strips that point downward in the direction in which traffic should flow; to the left or right of the sign. Some projects use people to direct the flow of traffic using flags or hand held slow and stop signs. The directions of these workers should be followed and carry the same weight as if a police officer was present to direct traffic.

Normally, a highway construction zone means that the road is going to be narrowed with barriers and in many cases, one or more lanes will be blocked off. A lot of collisions take place in these areas because drivers fail to properly merge into the remaining open lanes or fail to remain within their own narrowed, lane causing side swipe collisions. Rear end collisions are common because drivers fail to maintain a proper following distance between them and slowing traffic ahead. If a merge into another lane is required, drivers should merge as soon as possible after seeing the merge sign. Waiting until the last minute only adds to the slow traffic conditions and raises the risk of a collision. Drivers should also be on the lookout for construction trucks entering the roadway. Without the typical acceleration lanes, these trucks will be entering the road at a slow speed and it will take them time to get up to speed. These areas require extra caution and drivers should maintain an increased following distance of at least four seconds behind the vehicle ahead.

Many collisions in construction zones are caused by distracted drivers who aren't paying attention to the roadway ahead. While distractions such as using a cell phone, eating, or reading should be avoided at all times, they are especially dangerous in a construction zone. Texting should never be done behind the wheel of a car at any time.

A major problem in construction zones is speeding. Construction speed zones are set to allow the maximum safest speed under ideal conditions. There will be conditions where drivers need to slow below the posted speed limit. The danger in these zones come about when drivers become impatient and take risks; driving at speeds that are too high for conditions. Impatient, frustrated drivers tend to take chances that they might not otherwise take. Speeding means the driver has less control over the vehicle and prevents a driver from having enough time to react to conditions ahead resulting in rear end collisions and dead and injured construction workers by the side of the road. Speed control in construction zones is so critical that most states double the fines for a speeding ticket in a construction zone.

Many of the major road construction projects within or near major cities are conducted at night in order to reduce the effect on rush hour traffic. Night time requires extra patience and concentration. The lights used to illuminate the construction zone could blind drivers and prevent them from seeing workers in time. Slow and concentrate on the road ahead.

Many states now have a "Move Over" law requiring drivers to move over into the opposite lane or, if they can't move over, to slow when passing emergency vehicles by the side of the road. Construction vehicles with orange flashing lights should be given the same consideration as police and fire vehicles. Many construction workers are killed each year by drivers who fail to slow or to use extra caution in construction zones.

Patience is the key in construction zones. Hazards will come from all directions; from construction workers and vehicles entering the road and from impatient, speeding, or distracted drivers. You can't change conditions in these zones; you can only adapt to them. That is the temporary price you have to pay for a new and improved roadway in the future.

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