Nation’s top highway official calls for slower driving in work zones

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Urging everyone to drive slowly and carefully through highway work zones as repair crews work along the nation’s highways, Acting Federal Highway Administrator Jim Ray joined state transportation officials on Tuesday, April 8, in kicking off the ninth annual “National Work Zone Awareness Week.”

“As thousands of highway repair crews head back to work this season, America’s drivers must remember that a work zone is the workplace of thousands of men and women,” Ray said. “Driving slowly and carefully keeps everyone safer.” For maximum safety while driving through a work zone, Ray encouraged drivers to not tailgate and to avoid distractions like texting or using a cellular telephone while driving.

Ray noted that motorists are four times more likely to be injured or killed in a work zone than highway workers – often due to other drivers who may be speeding – which is why the slogan this year is “Slow for the Cone Zone.” There were 1,010 fatalities in 2006, and work zone fatalities nationwide have increased over the last decade by nearly 50 percent. More than 3,000 work zones are expected on U.S. highways by mid-summer, the peak of travel season.

“Work zones are a daily reality as road crews work tirelessly to improve our quality of life,” Ray said. “As more states look at innovative finance and tap the billions of dollars available for transportation investment in the private sector, we’re likely to see more work zones in coming years.”

At the national kick-off ceremony in Sacramento today, FHWA joined the California Department of Transportation in honoring the memory of 170 Caltrans highway workers who died in the line of duty since 1924.

With the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials, the American Traffic Safety Services Association, the American Road and Transportation Builders Association and others, FHWA has strongly supported National Work Zone Awareness Week since the event’s creation in 1999.

The American Trucking Associations also reminded drivers that while work zones are necessary for improved roadways, they also require added caution on the part of motorists. “At a time when overall traffic safety is improving, work zones are actually seeing a rise in accidents and fatalities,” said Bill Graves, ATA president and chief executive officer. “This is an issue the trucking industry wants to correct, and one we hope to make the general public aware of.”

ATA’s America’s Road Team, a group of elite professional truck drivers with millions of accident-free miles, are lending their expertise. Captains are at Welcome Centers across the nation to educate motorists on simple steps to avoid high-risk driving mistakes in work zones. The top five tips for all drivers include:

  • Expect the unexpected: Speed limits may be reduced, traffic lanes may be changed, and people may be working on or near the road;
  • Slow down: Speeding is one of the major causes of work zone crashes;
  • Don’t tailgate: Keep a safe following distance between you and the car ahead;
  • Plan your trip: Schedule your trip with plenty of extra time. Expect delays and leave early so you are not anxious while driving; and
  • Be aware of blindspots: Trucks have large blindspots in front, back and either side. Try to avoid lingering in this space, and do not cut in front of a truck – they cannot stop quickly.
  • Work zone safety is an issue that tractor-trailers also must improve, Graves said. The majority of work zone accidents occur during the weekday commute hours, with trucks involved in 30 percent of crashes. With highway congestion continuing to rise, special attention must be paid to motorists and tractor-trailers sharing the road – especially in highway work zones, he said.

    “Work zone safety is a major issue on the highway,” said America’s Road Team Captain Bill Burton. “Not only are these areas more hazardous than the typical road, but there are often workers present. For the sake of highway workers and all motorists, drivers need to slow down and follow the rules of the road.”

    America’s Road Team, sponsored by Volvo Trucks North America, is a national public outreach program led by a small group of professional truck drivers who share superior driving skills, remarkable safety records and a strong desire to spread the word about safety on the highway.