Drive safe as work zone season returns

There are a ton of different awareness weeks over the course of the year. Ironically, most people aren’t aware of them (which suggests a complete failure to achieve the goals, but we digress).

One happening this week probably falls under that category for most, but it’s important. It’s Work Zone Awareness Week.

We’ll grant that nobody really likes work zones. They can be a pain to navigate and they slow traffic considerably. They’re a necessity, though, and people need to pay close attention while traveling through them.

The evidence suggests that’s not happening as routinely as it should. There were more than 2,100 crashes in work zones last year in Wisconsin. Nine people were killed and more than 700 were injured.

That’s fairly close to the average over the past five years. It’s also unacceptable, especially when officials say most of those incidents were caused by one of three factors: speeding, tailgating and distracted driving.

None of those three factors is unavoidable. They’re the result of conscious choices drivers make.

Nationally, the picture isn’t much better. The Federal Highway Administration hasn’t released 2023 statistics yet, but 891 people were killed in work zones in 2022. That’s down from more than 960 in 2021.

Unsurprisingly, speed raises risk. The large majority of deaths were on interstates or arterial roads. It’s also not surprising that speeding was a factor in slightly more than a third of the fatalities.

Things happen far faster than we often appreciate while driving. Let’s say you steal a quick glance at your phone while driving in a work zone at 45 mph. Nothing much, just three seconds. By the time you look back up you’ve gone 200 feet. We’re going to bet you’re not leaving 200 feet between you and the car in front of you, and we’ll guarantee there’s not usually 200 feet between you and the work being done.

Most of the injuries and fatalities are people in vehicles. Wisconsin is averaging about one worker per year killed by passing vehicles, though.

Sure, some of the crashes probably involve bad weather. This is Wisconsin, after all. But when so many can be avoided by simply driving carefully and paying attention it’s frustrating to see these kinds of numbers. There’s the money spent on vehicle repairs or replacements. There’s the time lost while sorting out the results of even a minor fender bender. Above all, there are the people who are hurt.

Folks, please slow down when you reach construction areas. Make sure you’re wearing your seat belt. Leave a bit of extra room between you and the vehicle ahead of you. And for crying out loud put down the phone.

It makes sense that this particular awareness week is held in the spring. This is when construction and repair work ramps back up after the winter months. We’re already seeing some new projects in the Chippewa Valley. That makes a reminder valuable.

Like we said, we get it. The delays road work causes aren’t fun. The choice is usually between complaining about that or complaining about the road needing repairs, though. They’re a necessity.

The roads aren’t going to quit needing repairs, so it’s up to us to be better drivers while that work is being done. We can be. It really doesn’t take much. So make that effort while you’re out on the roads. Remember, there’s a lot of responsibility that comes with guiding a ton of steel down the highway.


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