This week is National Work Zone Safety Week, an annual campaign created by transportation and safety officials to draw attention to the dangers that everyone — road workers, motorists, and pedestrians — must recognize to stay safe when traveling on highways where roadwork is present.

Highway work zones are areas where increased traffic and safety hazards meet, often with deadly consequences. Crash statistics show that after steadily declining year after year, the number of fatal work zone traffic accidents started trending upward in 2011. Recent numbers indicate this troubling trend continues.

Work-Zone Accidents on the Rise

In 2010, deadly work-zone accidents hit a low. According to federal data, that year there were 521 fatal work-zone crashes resulting in 586 deaths, including 106 highway workers and 75 pedestrians. Accidents involving commercial trucks accounted for 117 fatal crashes resulting in 135 deaths.

In contrast, there were 683 fatal work zone crashes resulting in 765 deaths in 2016, the last year for which traffic statistics are available. Work zone deaths in 2016 included 143 workers and 109 pedestrians, and the number of deadly commercial truck accidents in work zones reached 184, with 319 people dying as a result.

Highway Construction: Unpleasant But Necessary

No motorists like being slowed down by lowered work zone speed limits, traffic congestion, and narrowed lanes, but it’s all a necessary part of maintaining and upgrading the highway system across the country, in every state. According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the American public considers work zones second only to poor traffic flow in causing dissatisfaction with the roadway system

Frustration with road conditions can trigger impatience, which can cause motorists to drive at excessive speeds in work zone areas, weave through traffic, or drive with inattention or aggression. But these are just a few of the factors that contribute to work zone accidents. Some other things to remember when you enter a work zone area are:

  • Slow down. Speeding in work zone areas is one of the main causes of deadly crashes.
  • Change your perspective. Instead of getting agitated over slowed traffic and other less-than-ideal road conditions in work zones, try to remember that road crews are only there working to improve your commute. Also, remember that other drivers are likely just as frustrated as you are.
  • Pay attention. Read and obey all warning signs, directional signs, and flaggers — all of which are in place to guide you through the work zone safely. Never use your smartphone or other handheld devices in a work zone. It’s critical to your own safety and the safety of others that you minimize any distractions while driving, especially in work zones where you can accidentally hit workers, other cars, or obstacles with just a moment of inattention.
  • Expect changes in road rules and conditions. Be aware that speed limits may drop, sometimes incrementally, and look out for lane restrictions, detours, and heavy activity involving workers and equipment next to the open travel lanes.
  • Keep a safe distance. Always maintain a safe distance between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you, construction vehicles and equipment, and road crews. Rear-end collisions are the most common type of work-zone crashes.
  • Merge responsibly and courteously. Lanes often narrow or get blocked off in work zones. When this happens, merge as early as the signs direct you to instead of waiting until the end. Drivers who wait until the last minute to merge and cut off other drivers disrupt the traffic flow and slow down travel for everyone. If you’re already driving in the open lane, be considerate and allow other drivers to merge early. Refrain from changing lanes in work zones. This only adds to the commotion of work zones and increases the risk of a crash.
  • Check road conditions and plan accordingly. If you have to be somewhere at a particular time, check road conditions before you set out and schedule enough time to drive safely through work zones. Consider changing your route or taking a detour, if possible.

The FHWA has been partnering with the American Traffic Safety Services Association and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation to promote Work Zone Safety Week since 1999. The theme of this year’s campaign Work Zone Safety: Everybody’s Responsibility.

Kendall Dunson, Beasley Allen Attorney
Kendall Dunson

Kendall was named Beasley Allen's 2015 Litigator of the Year.

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