According to the state's Department of Transportation (PENNDOT), 27 people, including three highway workers, were killed in highway construction work zones last year in Pennsylvania, a 35 percent increase from 2001 when 20 people lost their lives in work zone crashes.
Biehler said his thoughts are with the families of the 27 workers and motorists who lost their lives last year in work zones across Pennsylvania. "Tragically, many of these senseless deaths may have been prevented if motorists would have simply observed work zone laws," he added.
Starting in June, he said, "We have a very strong message for those motorists who refuse to observe work zone laws. If you speed, tailgate or drive aggressively in a work zone, you will be caught and if found guilty, you're going to lose your driver's license," said Biehler.
PENNDOT Act 229 of 2002, which toughens work zone laws in Pennsylvania, was signed into law last December. Beginning June 23, Act 229 calls for a 15-day driver's license suspension for motorists who are caught speeding 11 miles per hour or more above the posted speed limit in an active work zone.
Additionally, there will be zero tolerance for speeding in an active work zone. A motorist can now be cited for traveling even one mile per hour over the posted speed limit in an active work zone. Also, fines and points are doubled in all active work zones.
Active work zones are those places within a work area where workers are actually present. A flashing light mounted on a sign that reads "Active Work Zone When Flashing" will identify active work zones. At the end of the active work zone, another sign will be placed that reads "End Active Work Zone." PENNDOT and other highway agencies and contractors must turn the flashing light off when work stops for more than one hour to indicate that the work zone is no longer active.
According to PENNDOT, not all work zones across the state will qualify for the new signs. Work zones that are of a short duration or have minimal impact on traffic will not use the new signs.
Another provision of Act 229 is already in effect. Effective Feb. 21, motorists are required to turn on their headlights when driving through certain work zones where signs are in place telling them to do so. Failure to comply carries a fine of $25. This secondary law can be enforced when individuals are stopped for primary moving violations.
Again, not all work zones are subject to the headlight provision. Moving operations like traffic line painting will not have signs telling motorists to turn on their headlights; therefore this provision will not apply. Also, low traffic volume roads and operations that are completed in less than one hour will not use this sign.
As an additional deterrent to reckless driving in work zones, Act 229 also allows for courts to tack on an additional five-year jail sentence if a motorists is convicted of homicide by vehicle while traveling in an active work zone.
Highway contractors are also now required to install speed-monitoring signs on all Interstate work zones with a project cost of $300,000 or higher. These devices display the vehicle's speed to the drivers to clearly indicate how fast they are actually traveling.
As part of National Work Zone Awareness Week, Biehler turned on a variable message sign that displayed the message "NATIONAL WORK ZONE WEEK, REDUCE WORK ZONE SPEED, SAVE LIVES." That message or a similar message will be displayed on variable message boards across the state this week as a way to draw attention to the importance of driving safely in work zones.