Take care when driving through road construction

The annual seasonal change in the north is approaching: winter to road construction.

The orange barrels and vests should pop up throughout the region not long after the daffodils and trillium.

With that in mind, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has proclaimed April 8-12 as Work Zone Awareness Week. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation will take part in a nationwide campaign to spread awareness about safe driving among the road construction and maintenance this spring and summer.

Though we might joke about the seemingly constant state of the road repairs, there is a serious side: Wisconsin had 3,157 crashes in work zones in 2018, causing nine deaths and 1,274 injuries.

Drivers and passengers make up the vast majority of those injured or killed in a work zone crash, but workers remain at high risk as well. Earlier this year, a Milwaukee Department of Public Works employee was struck and killed while filling a pothole. In 2015, three highway workers were killed in separate incidents in Calumet, Shawano and Lincoln counties. One was rear-ended while driving a sweeper truck; two were flaggers who were struck by vehicles.

“Work zones are temporary, but our decisions behind the wheel can make an impact forever,” said WisDOT Secretary-designee Craig Thompson. “Each moment of focused, attentive driving is moment that can save a life.”

Five-year data shows Wisconsin averages nine work zone crashes daily during the construction season. Tailgating is the most commonly identified factor, while distracted driving and alcohol or drug use continue to be prevalent factors as well.

“It only takes a momentary distraction to create a highly dangerous situation on the road,” said Tony Burrell, superintendent of the Wisconsin State Patrol. “A reduced speed of 55 mph might feel slower compared to 65 or 70, but you’re still going to cover 80 feet per second through areas with narrow, shifting lanes. Drivers need to stay focused.”

In Wisconsin, work zones include major highway construction and rolling maintenance operations as well as emergency response, municipal projects and utility work along local roads. Wisconsin’s efforts are in coordination with National Work Zone Awareness Week. This year’s theme is “Drive Like You Work Here.”

How can people help?

— Drive safely, avoid distractions and obey posted speed limits. Be courteous and patient. Set a good example for others on the road.

— Leave the phone alone. Texting and driving is illegal statewide, as is talking on a hand-held mobile device in work zones.

— Slow down when you see workers and, if it’s possible, provide additional space by moving over. Wisconsin’s Move Over Law applies to maintenance operations as well as emergency response units.

— Show support for work zone safety with the social media hashtags #DriveLikeYouWorkHere, #NWZAW, #WorkZoneSafety, or #OrangeForSafety (but please never text or tweet while driving).

For more tips and information, go to wisconsindot.gov and search “work zone.”

For Michigan roads, go to www.Michigan.gov/MDOTWorkZones.