Stay Alert, Protect Highway Workers

The fifth season of the year, the "orange barrel" season, is upon us, and next week is National Highway Work Zone Safety Week.

Did you know there''s (almost officially) a fifth season now? There''s spring, summer, fall, winter and the "orange barrel" season. The blaring of horns, the cursing of drivers and the sound of steel crunching against steel herald the arrival of the orange barrel season. Unfortunately, it''s also a time when many highway workers and drivers are injured and killed in work zone crashes.

The third annual National Highway Work Zone Safety Week begins April 8 with an 11 a.m. kickoff event at a work zone site at the I-95/I-495 Interchange at Ritchie Marlboro Road in Prince George''s County, Md.

With the theme of "Roadways Keep America Moving - Drive Safely in Work Zones," the event features the unveiling of a memorial wall in honor of those who lost their lives in highway work zones.

Deaths and injuries among highway workers and others in construction work zones on U.S. highways represent a growing problem, according to the Federal Highway Administration. In 2000, there were an estimated 1,093 fatalities in work zones, of which 264 resulted from large truck crashes. Other work zone facts include:

  • On average from 1996 to 2000, 16 percent of the fatalities resulting from crashes in work zones were non-motorists (pedestrians and bicyclists).
  • Over 40,000 people per year are injured as a result of motor vehicle crashes in work zones.
  • An estimated 5,000 people were injured in large truck crashes in work zones in 2000.
  • In 2000, over half of all fatal work zone crashes occurred during the day, while about two-thirds of fatal large truck work zone crashes occurred during the day.
  • In 2000, almost two times as many fatal work zone crashes occurred on weekdays compared to weekends.
  • In 2000, fatal work zone crashes, regardless of whether a large truck was involved or not, occurred most often in the summer and the fall months.
  • In 2000, the percentage of fatal work zone crashes occurring on urban interstates was nearly twice the percentage of all fatal crashes occurring on urban interstates (11 percent compared to 6 percent).
  • In 2000, for fatal large truck crashes, the percentage of work zone crashes occurring on urban interstates is almost twice as high compared to all fatal truck crashes (15 percent vs. 9 percent).
  • In 2000, the majority of fatal work zone crashes for all vehicles and large trucks occurred on roads with speed limits of 55 mph or greater (60 percent and 70 percent, respectively).

To prevent crashes, motorists are urged to remain alert and pay careful attention, minimize distractions, avoid changing lanes, keep up with the traffic flow, turn on headlights, avoid tailgating and speeding, expect the unexpected and be patient.

The Work Zone Safety Awareness Week Program began in December 1999 when a joint cooperative effort was formed to highlight the dangers that both workers and motorists face within highway work zones. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Federal Highway Administration, the American Traffic Safety Services Association, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the Association General Contractors, the American Road and Transportation Builders and more than 20 other groups participate in Work Zone Safety Awareness Week.

A fact sheet and additional materials on the national work zone safety campaign can be accessed from the Federal Highway Administration''s safety page.

by Sandy Smith ([email protected])

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