The U.S. Department of Transportation today kicked off National Work Zone Awareness Week as construction season approaches. Deputy Federal Highway Administrator Gregory Nadeau joined state and federal officials at the Washington Boulevard Bridge over Columbia Pike in Arlington, Va., to urge drivers to stay alert when driving near highway workers. They were joined by workers and families affected by work zone crashes.
This year’s theme, “Expect the Unexpected,” emphasizes the need for drivers to constantly be prepared for changes such as reduced speed limits; narrowed, shifted or closed lanes; and people who may be working on or near the road. In 2013, the most recent year for which data are available, there were 579 fatalities in work zones, a small decrease from 617 fatalities the previous year.
“As the temperatures climb, thousands of highway workers nationwide are heading back to work to improve America’s roads,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “To keep them safe, we owe them our full attention when driving through work zones, so please avoid distractions like cellphones and obey posted speed limits.”
National Work Zone Awareness Week, sponsored by federal, state and local transportation officials at the beginning of construction season each spring, raises awareness of safety measures taken on roads all over the country. Typically, work zone crashes occur when drivers fail to obey posted speed limits, fail to adapt to changing road conditions, or use cellphones while driving.
FHWA works with state and local transportation officials to promote improvements in work zone planning and design, increased law enforcement near work zones, enhanced worker training and heightened awareness among drivers. Since 2005, FHWA has awarded nearly $33 million in grants to promote work zone safety training and the National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse.
In 2013, speed was a factor in 23 percent of fatal work zone crashes. Two out of three victims in work zone crashes in 2013 were drivers and passengers of vehicles.
During the ceremony, Nadeau paid tribute to the 132 Virginia Department of Transportation employees who died in highway work zones since 1928.
“When driving through work zones, be respectful of highway workers and their workplace by slowing down,” said Deputy Administrator Nadeau. “Following the rules of the roadway makes it easier to expect the unexpected.”
Like the FHWA, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) works with other USDOT agencies to reduce work zone crashes through grants to states and research on driver behavior. FMCSA has made work zone safety a national priority in its commercial vehicle safety plans, and partners with the International Association of Chiefs of Police in its “Drive to Save Lives” campaign to encourage all law enforcement to stop trucks and buses when they are seen operating unsafely.
“In 2013, large trucks and buses were involved in 186 work zone crashes that resulted in fatalities,” said FMCSA Chief Counsel Scott Darling. “Tragedies like these can be avoided by paying attention, slowing down, carefully obeying signs and the direction of flagmen, maintaining a safe distance between vehicles, avoiding distractions and always keeping safety the number one priority.”
For more information on this year’s National Work Zone Awareness Week, visit http://www.ops.fhwa.dot.gov/wz/outreach/wz_awareness.htm