Work Zone Safety Awareness Week

This week, April 15-19, is National Work Zone Safety Awareness Week, designed to raise awareness and further improve roadway safety for all workers, drivers and their passengers.

This year’s Work Zone Safety Awareness Week national campaign theme is: “Roadway Work Zone Safety – We’re All in This Together.”

Although many local road projects have not yet started because of the extended winter season, the message is no less important.

To help prevent traffic crashes in road construction and maintenance work zones that injure and kill motorists and workers, Governor Scott Walker has proclaimed the week of April 15 to 19 as Work Zone Awareness Week in Wisconsin.

The Michigan Department of Transportation, in partnership with numerous traffic safety partners across the country, also supports Work Zone Safety Awareness Week to raise awareness and further improve roadway safety for all workers, drivers and their passengers.

Wisconsin Gov. Walker’s proclamation notes that “construction and maintenance of our streets, highways and utility infrastructure are critical to improving the state’s economic activity and employment by 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 nearly 1,700 work zone crashes in Wisconsin that caused six deaths and nearly 733 injuries, according to preliminary statistics from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

“Driving through a work zone is challenging under the best 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 in a statement. “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.”

The Michigan Department of Transportation also released the 2012 work zone crash statistics for Michigan.

Last year, there were 4,530 crashes, 1,149 injuries, and 15 fatalities in Michigan work zones – down from 2011’s numbers: 4,633 crashes, 1,312 injuries, and 18 fatalities.

“Crashes were down across the board for 2012 but too many people are still at risk of serious injury and death,” said State Transportation Director Kirk T. Steudle. “The majority of the responsibility to create a safe environment is on the driver more than anyone. Eliminating distractions save lives and will help us get closer to Michigan’s goal of zero deaths.”

Preventing traffic fatalities and injuries while maintaining an efficient highway system is a major priority in the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s Mobility, Accountability, Preservation, Safety and Service performance program, Gottlieb said.

“If we all do our part to prevent crashes in work zones and on all our roadways, we will make progress toward our ultimate goal of reducing the number of preventable traffic deaths to Zero In Wisconsin,” he said.

“With the return of the familiar orange barrels, motorists must learn to unplug from distractions as they enter work zones,” adds John Niemela, director of the County Road Association of Michigan.

“As roadways get congested and workers are present, a motorist’s focus must be on driving,” Niemela said. “Every single time you take your eyes off the road or talk on the phone while you’re driving – even for a few seconds – you put yourself and others at risk.”

More than 85 percent of all people killed in highway work zone crashes are drivers and passengers, not highway workers.

While distracted driving is always dangerous, the complexity of work zones significantly intensifies this danger for road workers, drivers, bicyclists, motorcycles, pedestrians, emergency responders, law enforcement, utility workers, or anyone else in the work zone.

National Work Zone Safety Awareness Week is a great time for all motorists to think back to what is taught in driver education classes.

Safe driving requires a constant scanning of the environment around the motorists.

Whether talking on the cell phone, eating, using GPS systems, or interacting with other passengers, each second a motorist’s eyes are off the road decreases the response time available to react to the dangers present in a work zone.

“When you see the signs that say work zone ahead, hang up and drive. Make a commitment to have your primary focus on driving, at least until you’ve exited the work zone.” Niemela said. “The life you save may be your own.”