Trucks at Work

Targeting the work zone vehicular threat

A recent survey of 800 highway contractors conducted by the American Association of General Contractors (AGC) coughed up a worrisome statistic in terms of roadway safety as 46% of those contractors said a motor vehicle crashed into one their construction work zones over the past year.

That’s not what one would call a “happy stat,” and it’s one involving a worrisome number of commercial vehicles, too.

That’s why, even though “National Work Zone Awareness Week” occurred back in March. It is worth revisiting the issue as more folks are expected to hit the roads over the summer this year (click here for more numbers on that trend).

Consider data compiled by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), state departments of transportation, and other government agencies.

In 2013, the year with the most recent available data, there were:

  • 579 work zone traffic-related fatalities; a 6% decrease from 2012;
  • 29,000 work zone injuries; a 9% decrease from 2012;
  • 105 worker fatalities; a 21% decrease from 2012;
  • 186 large trucks (184) and buses (2) involved in fatal crashes in work zones; that’s an 11% increase from 2012.

Overall, though, FHWA noted that work zone fatalities are down by 34% since 1999.

Yet Tom Foss – president of Brea, CA.-based highway contractor Griffith Company and the chairman of the AGC’s highway and transportation division – noted in a statement that more needs to be done to improve work zone safety for all involved; motor vehicle operators especially.

"If the thought of saving someone else's life isn't enough to get you to slow down, just remember that you and your passengers are more likely to suffer in a highway work zone crash than anyone else," he explained.  "In most work zones, there just isn't enough margin for error for anyone to speed through or lose focus."

Foss (in orange tie at right) added that 41% of the contractors in AGC’s survey that reports work zone crashes said the motor vehicle operator and/or passengers suffered injuries, with 16% of those crashes involved a driver or passenger fatality.

Highway work zone crashes also pose a significant risk for construction workers, he stressed, as 16% of work zone crashes injure highway construction workers – with 9% of said crashes resulting in a worker fatality.

Work zone crashes also have a pronounced impact on construction schedules and costs, Foss pointed out, as 26% of the contractors in AGC’s poll said work zone crashes forced them to temporarily shut down construction activity. Those delays were often lengthy, he emphasized, with 48% of said shutdowns lasting two or more days.

While 69% of contractors in AGC’s survey believe tougher laws, fines and legal penalties for moving violations in work zones would reduce injuries and fatalities, with another 80% saying the increased use of concrete barriers would help reduce injuries and fatalities, Foss suggested that the best way to improve safety is simply for drivers of all motor vehicles – cars and big rigs alike – to be more careful while driving through highway work zones.

Yet will such a simple – and unenforceable – admonishment to “be more careful” result in safer driving thru roadway work zones? We can only wait and see.

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