When COVID-19 lockdowns were being enforced across the US last year, many state DOTs decided to use the golden opportunity in front of them to fast-track road construction work that would otherwise anger motorists. The common thinking was that with fewer vehicles on the road, construction workers would be able to conduct their jobs more safely and efficiently without any road construction accidents.
Expert Opinion on the Increase in Road Construction Accidents
In the past year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that 7% more individuals were killed on the roadways in the US despite the fact that Americans drove 13% fewer miles than they did in 2018.
Bradley Sant, the senior vice president for Safety & Education in the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, explained the increase in road construction accidents aptly. He chalked it up to the deadly combination of fast, reckless driving and unexpected road closures due to the increase in construction.
Toward the end of last year, a Pew Charitable Trusts report baled speeding as the cause of the rise in work zone crashes and fatalities, despite measuring the steep decline in vehicle miles traveled. This report cited examples of cars zooming through construction zones at more than 100 miles per hour. There were many deadly work zone accidents during the pandemic that resulted in the death of traffic control flaggers, construction workers, and transportation workers.
According to Pam Shadel Fischer, a senior director at the Governors Highway Safety Association, speeding came to the forefront during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s the worst thing that can happen in a work zone.
Motorists Continue Speeding despite the Rise in Traffic
Some US states certainly suffered from road construction accidents more than others. According to the Michigan DOT, five workers were killed in the state in 2020, which is three more than 2019, even though there was a 20% to 60% decrease in traffic. Moreover, motorists stuck a state contractor and three county employees in one week, killing two of them.
Michigan DOT Field Operations Engineer Lindsey Renner mentioned how unacceptable these deaths are and how they are the result of reckless and fast driving that increased during the pandemic. She believes that now that the lockdowns are getting lifted and people are heading back to work, it’s probably quite horrible and unsafe on the roadways these days.
ACG vice president for public affairs and strategic initiatives, Brian Turmail, said during the webinar that the US might be experiencing the worst of both worlds because, despite the fact that traffic has continued to rise in the past six to nine months, people have yet to slow down on the roads. AGC Chief Economist, Ken Simonson, is of the opinion that speeding and distracted driving are the biggest threats to the safety of road workers and will continue to be primary challenges even after the pandemic.
Simonson has mentioned that AGC has been doing the survey for several years now, and the results keep reflecting such a high percentage of construction workers and contractors experiencing crashes, injuries, and fatalities in work zones. He hopes that next year the company’s report will highlight some positive news.
Officials Are Tackling the Work Zone Safety Issue
The federal government, state DOTs, and construction firms are taking the necessary steps to ensure work zone safety via training programs. The Federal Highway Association has provided the state and local DOTs with more than $40 million since 2005 to promote safety training for specialized work zones. Nearly 4,300 courses have been offers to 120,000 transportation agency workers to date.
Moreover, officials are also looking into new safety technology, such as wearables that vibrate, letting the workers know when hazards are near them. Bradley Sant believed that the industry should use automotive innovations for similar solutions to encourage driver safety. He wants the officials to take the technology that alerts you of a person or car behind your car while you’re backing it up and use it to identify people on the side of the road.
In the ACG-HCSS survey, 70% of contractors said that stringent laws against mobile phone usage and distracted driving linked to vehicles in construction work zones would decrease the number of road construction accidents, including crashes and fatalities. Plus, 80% of them said that increased police presence in work zones would enhance safety.
Laws to Ensure Road Safety
Most states have laws that demand drivers to slow down when passing maintenance cars, but these laws aren’t enforced properly, and neither are these protections extended to work crews everywhere. For instance, it was only three years after a distracted motorist struck and killed a longtime DOT employee in Missouri in 2016 that the government signed “Lyndon’s Law,” enabling the state to revoke the driver’s license of any individual who strikes a worker in a work zone.
The state is utilizing automatic flagger-assistant devices, allowing workers to control traffic by the side of the road using their tablets and truck-mounted barriers that you can park to protect workers and drive away when traffic needs to flow. Michigan is also using rumble strips to offer audible alerts to motorists as they approach a work crew.
Despite stringent laws and modern safety technologies, officials need to control the problem of speeding vehicles, with the robust presence of police at work zones. In New York, 444 tickets were issued as part of Operation Hardhat, an initiative to prevent work zone violations and ensure safe driving around highway construction. According to a statement from the NYS DOT, six highway workers in state construction zones were hospitalized during April because of road construction crashes.
Joe Morrissey, New York State DOT Communications Director, voiced that cameras in highway construction zones and portable rumble strips also helped prevent accidents. However, in the end, it all boils down to drivers slowing down their vehicles and being attentive while driving.
At the end of the day, one of the best ways to prevent road construction accidents is to use police enforcement to keep the construction work zones safe from speeding vehicles.