There has been an increase in reconstruction and rehabilitationof the nation’s roadways as stimulus money is used to improve the transportation infrastructure. More money brings more work zones across the country, along with an increased risk of accidents aggravated by the heavy traffic volume passing through these congested work zones.

More than 20 percent of the National Highway System — approximately 160,000 miles of roadway that is important to the nation’s economy, defense and mobility — is under construction each year during the peak summer road work season.

Compounding matters, traffic volume and congestion is increasing. The most recent statistics (2008) from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), shows that between 1985 and 2006, vehicle miles traveled increased by nearly 100 percent, while highway lane miles only increased 5 percent during the same period.

Severe traffic congestion during the daytime is causing road construction crews to do more work at night. This makes work zones all the more dangerous because visibility is poorer at night, even with lighting towers. Moreover, with less overall traffic at night, motorists tend to drive faster.

Studies have shown that crash rates at night increase by a higher percentage during road work activity (65 percent) than crash rates during daytime road work activities (25 percent).

Work zones pose many risks because of the congestion they cause and from the activity of the personnel and equipment. According to FHWA, one work zone fatality occurs every 10 hours, and one work zone injury happens every 13 minutes (110 a day). Four of every five victims in a work zone crash are motorists, not highway workers, as is commonly believed.

Each April, at the start of the road construction season, National Work Zone Awareness Week is held. The intent is to bring national attention to motorist and worker safety and mobility issues in work zones and to promote the safe and efficient flow of traffic through them. The theme for this year’s event, taking place April 19-23, is: “Work Zones Need Your Undivided Attention.”

Since the creation of the National Work Zone Awareness Week event in late 1999 by the FHWA, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and the American Traffic Safety Services Association, nearly every state DOT, countless other associations and organizations across the country support and participate in the program.

Here are some recommendations from traffic safety professionals that can help drivers avoid the hazards and dangers that can be encountered when driving through roadway work zones.

- Pay attention to the signs. Bright orange diamond-shaped warning signs are posted well in advance of road construction projects.

- If you see a “Flagman Ahead” warning sign, stay alert and be prepared to obey the flagman’s directions. In a work zone, a flagman has the same authority as a regulatory sign. A driver can be cited for disobeying a flagman’s instructions.

- Turn on your headlights so workers and other motorists can more clearly see you.

- Dedicate your full attention to roadway.

- Minimize distractions. Avoid changing radio stations, fiddling with the CB, talking on a cell phone and so forth.

- Slow down and check your speed. Reduced speed limits may be posted. Driving slower allows more time to react to any hazards. Traffic fines may be doubled for violations in work zones.

Keep in mind that a vehicle going 60 miles an hour travels 88 feet every second. If you’re going 60 miles per hour and pass a sign that states “Road Work 1,500 Feet,” you’ll be in that work zone in 17 seconds.

- Be prepared to merge or change lanes as directed by markers, signs or flagmen.

- Watch for stopped or slowing traffic and slow-moving construction vehicles.

- Increase your following distance. Rear-end collisions are the most common work zone accidents.

- Stay in your lane and do not try to change lanes.

- Expect the unexpected. Workers and equipment may be working on or very close to traffic lanes. Traffic lane widths are often reduced and traffic patterns changed, and detours may be required.

- Some work zones — such as line painting and road patching — are mobile, moving along as the work is finished. Just because you don’t see workers immediately after you see the warning signs doesn’t mean there isn’t a work zone.

- Observe posted work zone signs until you see the one that indicates you have left the work zone.

When driving through work zones, be patient. Roadway construction projects may add some delay to your trip, but such projects will improve road conditions and promote safer driving for all motorists. BI

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