Work zone safety season

With summer just around the corner and some seasonal road construction and repair projects are already under way, the Ohio Department of Transportation and others are reminding motorists that the need for vigilance inside work zones is great.

“I think distracted driving in general is leading to crashes that could otherwise be avoidable,” said ODOT spokesperson Steve Faulkner.

Statewide, work zone fatalities doubled from eight in 2009 to 16 in 2011.

But the upward trend is entirely preventable, said Faulkner. The top causes of work zone crashes are speed, following too closely, failure to control and improper lane changes.

“If folks would just slow down it would make a big difference. We always stress to our guys to be safe and aware of their surroundings, but it’s still unsettling to have a car drive through a work zone at a high rate of speed,” said Washington County Engineer Roger Wright.

County construction crews have been fortunate to not have any work zone safety accidents that Wright could recall. However, there are sometimes distracted drivers that will cause a close call.

“You always have an occasional driver not paying attention and the will just drive right by a flagger when they shouldn’t,” he noted.

Crews have radios to communicate in the situations, but driver attentiveness could go a long way to reduce unsafe situations, he said.

The major causes of work zone accidents are all preventable, noted Faulkner.

“I think it is just a matter of being cognizant of our surroundings,” he said.

ODOT recently wrapped up National Work Zone Safety Awareness week and in an effort to encourage increased vigilance they will be implementing a pilot program this summer at ten construction sites across the state.

“This project is called variable speed limits and these sites will have a variable speed sign where the speed can be reduced while workers are present and where workers are present,” said Faulkner.

The idea is that if reduced speed signs are put up throughout the entire length of a project and for the duration of the project, people have a greater tendency to tune the signs out, he said.

“You might have a ten mile project with the speed reduced the whole way, but workers may only be present in a small portion of the project,” said Faulkner.

The hope is that selectively placing the reduced speed limits will mean motorists are more inclined to observe them, he said.

The variable speed limits will likely be backed up by a law enforcement component and have been used successfully in other states, he added.

Travelers can also be aware of potential construction projects before they hit the road by visiting and searching for road construction and events.