Monday, April 20, begins National Work Zone Awareness Week. It may seem like a strange time to think about work zone safety when so many people around the world are under stay-at-home orders, but in most jurisdictions, infrastructure projects are considered essential activities. Workers will still be showing up to project sites each day to see that our highways and streets are maintained and improved, making sure they are ready when we resume our daily commutes, errands and recreation.
Many of us are still making occasional car trips, whether they be to our place of work for essential job functions, the grocery store or pharmacy, or to deliver items to our loved ones and community members who can’t get out. Delivery services and mail carriers are out and about, and truckers hauling food, medical supplies and other goods are still making their cross-country trips. Daily activity has slowed for many of us, but there are parts of our economy still churning, and the highway and street systems are an essential foundation for that to occur.
When driving in traffic, it’s common that other cars on the road help guide our behavior. We choose a speed to match the flow of traffic and slow when others around us are slowing. When fewer cars are on the road, we lose some of those cues that influence our driving behavior.
With emptier roads, it can be easier to lose focus, increase speed, drift out of our own lane or become drowsy. Near work zones where lanes may shift or end, these behaviors are especially dangerous for those working in and along the road. Now more than ever, we must not allow ourselves to be distracted when we are out driving.
Nationwide, over 124 workers died in work zones in 2018. That same year, 754 drivers, passengers and pedestrians died in fatal work zone crashes. Many thousands more end up in emergency rooms for injuries sustained in work zone crashes. Considering the burden our emergency responders, healthcare providers and hospitals are already facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the potential of being exposed to the coronavirus when in the ER, we must do everything we can to keep ourselves and others safe when driving.
At a time when many of us are focused on taking actions to protect our health and safety, be sure to maintain focus on the roads. By driving safely — wearing your seat belt, following the speed limit and avoiding distraction — we can honor those who work in harm’s way to keep us safe and our economy moving.
Third-party studies are critical to maintaining safe highways and planning for future projects.