To help prevent traffic crashes in road construction work zones that injure and kill motorists and workers, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has proclaimed this week as Work Zone Awareness Week in Wisconsin.
In fact, this is also National Work Zone Awareness Week.
Governor Walker's proclamation notes that "construction and maintenance of our streets, highways and utility infrastructure are critical to our state's economic vitality and keeping the state open for business."
The proclamation also reminds drivers that "work zones often require narrowed lanes, lane shifts, temporary pavements, reduced speeds and night work" and advises that "driving through work zones requires motorists' utmost attention."
Last year, there were more than 1,700 work zone crashes in Wisconsin that caused eight deaths and nearly 750 injuries, 71 of which were serious, according to preliminary statistics from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.
"Driving through a work zone is challenging under the best of circumstances, but your reaction time and margin for error are reduced significantly if you speed, tailgate or don't pay attention to rapidly changing traffic situations. Rear-end collisions are the most frequent type of crash in a work zone," says Wisconsin Department of Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb.
"In work zones, workers and equipment often are operating within a few feet of traffic," Gottlieb said. "Although construction workers are at a great risk of being hit, about three out of four people killed in work zone crashes are motorists. Because of the risks to motorists and workers, traffic fines are double in work zones. By preventing work zone crashes, we can make progress toward the goal of zero preventable traffic deaths in Wisconsin."
While the number of crashes, injuries and fatalities in road construction work zone crashes in Michigan were down from the year before, 2011 statistics released by the Michigan Department of Transportation indicate that workers, motorists and their passengers are still at risk.
Last year, there were 4,633 crashes, 1,312 injuries, and 18 fatalities in Michigan work zones - down from 2010's statistics: 5,632 crashes, 1,488 injuries, and 23 fatalities.
"While this data suggests some improvement over 2010, drivers must remain focused at all times when they get behind the wheel," said Michigan State Transportation Director Kirk T. Steudle. "Many of these crashes are avoidable and the life you save could be your own."
"We join other transportation agencies this week to raise awareness and promote our safety message: by eliminating distractions, our roads become a safer place," said Steudle.
How dangerous is construction work on the highway?
Sixty-eight percent of the nation's highway contractors had motor vehicles crash into their construction work zones during the past year, according to the results of a new highway work zone study conducted by the Associated General Contractors of America.
Association officials added that the study found those work zone crashes are more likely to kill construction workers than they are to kill vehicle operators or passengers.
"Any time your job site is just a few feet away from fast moving traffic, things can get a little too exciting," said Tom Brown, the chair of the association's national highway and transportation division and president of Vista, Calif.-based Sierra Pacific West. "Since construction workers don't get the option of wearing seatbelts, they are more likely to be killed in a work zone crash than motorists are."
Brown said that 28 percent of contractors report their workers were injured during work zone crashes this past year, and 18 percent had at least one construction worker killed during those crashes.
While they are less likely to kill motor vehicle operators and passengers, highway work zone crashes do pose a significant risk for people in cars, Brown added. He noted that more than 50 percent of work zone crashes injure vehicle operators or users, and 15 percent of those crashes kill them.
Association officials said that 75 percent of contractors nationwide feel that tougher laws, fines and legal penalties for moving violations in work zones would reduce injuries and fatalities.
But Brown suggested that the best way to improve safety was for motorists to be more careful while driving through highway work zones.
"The easiest way to improve work zone safety is to get motorists to slow down and pay attention," Brown said. "When motorists see construction signs and orange barrels, they need to take the foot off the gas, put the phone down and keep their eyes on the road."
Traffic safety experts also offer the following advice:
- Slow down. Pay attention.
- Avoid complacency. Don't become oblivious to work zone signs when the work is long term or widespread.
- Calm down. Work zones aren't there to personally inconvenience you. They're there to improve the roads for everyone.
- Heed the warning signs and symbols.
- Merge as soon as possible. Motorists can help maintain traffic flow and posted speed by moving to the appropriate lane at first notice of an approaching work zone.
- Don't tailgate. Keep a safe distance between your vehicle and traffic barriers, trucks, construction equipment and workers.
- Some work zones - like line painting, road patching and mowing - are mobile. Just because you don't see the workers immediately after you see the warning signs, doesn't mean they're not out there. Observe the posted signs until you see the one that says, "End Road Work."
- Pay attention to your surroundings. Your Facebook status can wait. This is not the time to use the cell phone, adjust your MP3 player, or drink your coffee.
- Try an alternate route.
- Expect delays; plan for them and leave early to reach your destination on time.