With the arrival of spring, motorists are going to start seeing more city and county crews on local roadways patching the pavement and working on other repair projects. Although motorists sometimes complain about having to slow down through a road work zone, taking the time to be extra careful could end up saving a life.
April 15-19 is National Work Zone Awareness Week, and the goal is to raise awareness about the hazards and dangers highway workers and motorists face every day.
"They need to watch for the signs and read the signs," Jim Meier, Harvey County road and bridge superintendent, said of motorists. "... Too many times, traffic does not slow down."
According to the Kansas Department of Transportation, there was an average of 4.8 work zone crashes every day in Kansas last year (1,742 total crashes). Although about 75 percent of the crashes were property damage only, careless driving in work zones can result in tragedies.
Albert Horn, a KDOT supervisor, said many road workers have had close calls.
“On several occasions, most of us have had to run for cover, safety or protection because we heard tires screeching, horns blaring and brakes being applied,” Horn said.
Early in his KDOT career, Horn was collecting trash along I-35 in the Kansas City area when a semi-tractor trailer locked its brakes and jack-knifed while avoiding another vehicle.
“The rig slid past me before ending up in the median about 100 feet from where I was standing,” he said. “I then realized how fortunate I was and how dangerous this job could be.”
While unprotected workers on the sides of roadways may seem to be in the most danger, KDOT reports almost 90 percent of the people who are injured or killed in work zone crashes are motorists. Of the eight people killed in work zone crashes in Kansas in 2012, one was a highway worker who worked for a construction company, one was a pedestrian and six were motorists. Most of the 608 people injured were motorists.
The top contributing circumstances of work zone crashes were driver-related in more than 80 percent of all the accidents, with the main cause being inattention. Other causes included failure to yield right of way, driving too fast for conditions, following too closely, and under the influence of alcohol.
Meier recommended people slow down well in advance of a work zone and continue to drive at a low speed until they are out of the zone. While 55 mph may not feel very fast to the motorist, if you're a worker standing outside only a few feet from the passing car, it's a very different experience.
Meier said most of the work his crews have to do involves placing equipment on the roadway. If you have to go around this equipment, make sure you are clear to pass and there isn't traffic coming from the other direction.
Sometimes, Meier will ask law enforcement to monitor the work zone to make sure motorists are driving safely.
KDOT reports fines are double in all Kansas work zones, whether they are major construction projects or short-term maintenance projects. The Kansas Move Over Law, which was passed in 2006, requires motorists traveling on four-lane highways to move into the left lane when passing by a road crew or emergency vehicle with flashing lights, if it is safe to do so. Tickets issued carry a $195 fine plus court costs.
More information on work zone safety can be found on KDOT’s website, www.ksdot.org, by clicking on the "Go Orange" logo. The link includes safety blogs from KDOT employees and other transportation partners, photos of people wearing orange in support of highway workers, various videos and other safety information.
This week, watch out for county crews working on N.W. 36th Street.