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Work zone safety

Motorists urged to drive to survive near work zones

By Michael Kelley

Roadway construction zones have become such a familiar sight to Alabama drivers that most of us often pay little attention to pleas for caution.

But these areas can be deadly: Alabama had 22 fatal crashes in work zones in 2013, and 23 fatal crashes in 2012, according to data from the Alabama Department of Transportation.

In an effort to make drivers aware of work zones, several Alabama groups are participating in National Work Zone Awareness Week March 23-27. The annual spring campaign is traditionally held at the start of the construction season to encourage safe driving; this year’s theme is “Expect the Unexpected.”

“This awareness is important for both the motorists passing through the work zone and the workers doing the work,” said John McCarthy, chairman of the Alabama Struck-By Alliance.

The Struck-By Alliance is a voluntary group of businesses and governmental agencies, all of which have an interest in safe travel along the highways in the state. Participating in the Alliance, among others, are the Alabama Associated General Contractors of America, the 3M company, the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT), Alabama Power and the Alabama Rural Electric Association of Cooperatives, which publishes Alabama Living. (Utility crews do much of their work on road rights-of-way.)

The Alliance sponsors field activities, such as stand-downs (where employers take a break during the work day to discuss safety with employees), and office functions, such as training classes and poster presentations.

Drivers might be surprised to learn that most work zone fatalities are motorists and their occupants; only about 10-15 percent of fatalities are workers and other non-motorized users, such as bicyclists and pedestrians.

To further heighten awareness, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, which includes the state troopers, partners with ALDOT on work zone safety. ALDOT will often request trooper presence in construction zones — either to sit with their lights on, or in a marked car to slow traffic down, said Sgt. Steve Jarrett, spokesman for ALEA. If speeding becomes a problem they’ll ask for enforcement.

“You should see signs saying that speeding fines are doubled when workers are present (in construction zones),” Jarrett said.

Speed limits are reduced for a variety of reasons: the roadway may not be up to standard; there may be uneven lanes or lane closures; or there may be heavy equipment moving in and out of the area. “It’s not just for the safety of the workers; it’s for the safety of the motoring public as well,” Jarrett said.

“I get asked a lot, if the workers are not there, is the speed limit still reduced?” Jarrett said. “The bottom line is, if the speed limit is posted in black and white, that is the speed limit.”

The good news is that the numbers of work zone crashes and work zone fatalities has been decreasing for many of the past several years, McCarthy said. “We think that increased training of workers and increased awareness of the road users, through events such as National Work Zone Awareness Week, have been important in achieving this result,” he said.

GUIDELINES FOR SAFE DRIVING AROUND WORK ZONES

  •  Keep a safe distance between your vehicle and traffic barriers, trucks, construction equipment, and workers.
  •  Be patient. Traffic delays are sometimes unavoidable, so try to allow time for unexpected occurrences in your schedule.
  • Obey all signs and road crew flag instructions.
  • Merge early and be courteous to other drivers.
  • Use your headlights at dusk and during inclement weather.
  •  Minimize distractions. Avoid activities such as operating a radio, using a handheld device or eating while driving.

Source: Safe Electricity