Driving Safety Home during Fourth Annual Work Zone Awareness Week

April 8, 2003
Spring has sprung across much of the country and with it comes those pesky orange construction cones, signaling the start of road repairs. But would drivers be so quick to drive around and through those cones if they thought each one represented the life of a road worker or motorist?

With a more than 55 percent increase in work zone fatalities between 1997 and 2001, U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta today marked National Work Zone Awareness Week by urging motorists to exercise greater caution and drive safely through work zones. National Work Zone Awareness Week is April 6-12 this year.

"This campaign helps alert motorists to drive carefully through highway construction zones," Mineta said. "We can improve safety for motorists, pedestrians and construction workers by exercising caution and following good safety practices in highway work zones."

In 2001, the latest year for which this information is available, 1,079 people were killed in work zone-related crashes. Four out of five of them were motorists.

At the fourth annual National Work Zone Awareness Week kick-off event today in Washington, D.C., a field of orange work zone cones draped with black memorial ribbons to commemorated motorists who died, and fluorescent yellow-green ribbons commemorated workers who were killed.

"Repairs and improvements are needed on our nations streets and highways to enhance safety and mobility," Federal Highway Administrator Mary E. Peters said. "Each year, too many people are killed in work zone crashes. These cones serve as a reminder of the real tragedy each one of these deaths was preventable."

The number of people killed in motor vehicle crashes in work zones rose from 693 in 1997 to a high of 1,079 in 2001. In addition, more than 40,000 people are injured in work zones each year.

"Work zones are necessary to keep us all moving. But they do pose a danger a very real danger to both the workers and the people in the vehicles, and avoiding that danger is largely in the control of motorists," said John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

The Federal Highway Administration asked motorists to observe the orange signs along roads that indicate work zones. The highway agency also offered the following "Safety Tips to Live By":

  • Stay alert and give full attention to the roadway.
  • Pay close attention to signs and work zone flaggers.
  • Turn on headlights so workers and other drivers can see your vehicle.
  • Do not tailgate.
  • Do not speed. Slow down to the posted speed limits.
  • Keep up with the traffic flow.
  • Do not change lanes in work zones.
  • Minimize distractions in vehicles. Avoid changing radio stations and using mobile phones in work zones.
  • Expect the unexpected. Keep an eye on workers and their equipment.
  • Be patient. Remember work zones are necessary to improve roads and make them safer.

"Unfortunately, the statistics speak for themselves," says Kathi Holst, president of the American Traffic Safety Services Association. "The number of people killed on our roadways is too high. The number of people killed in work zones is too high. The battle to drive these numbers down must continue to be one of the primary focuses for the roadway safety industry and the motoring public."

Additional information about work zone safety is available by clicking on Work Zone Awareness Week at www.fhwa.dot.gov.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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