Why do so many drivers ignore the safety of construction zone workers?

April 20-24, 2020, is this year’s National Work Zone Awareness Week.  Sadly, however, far too many drivers are extremely thoughtless about the safety of roadside workers.

An orange construction zone sign with a deliberate spelling mistake for double-meaning: Give Us a Brake.
When a wrongly spelled word is the right word… Brake! Slow down and give construction zone workers the time and space to be safe. (Copyright image, 2019.)

From 2015-2017, an average of 772 workers were killed each year in construction and maintenance work zones on U.S. roads and highways.  That, in turn, is an average of just over two per day, every day of the year. [CDC]

Photograph of construction zone workers trying to cross two lanes of live traffic on a U.S. interstate highway.
Seemingly small tasks like erecting and removing traffic signs can be very dangerous for workers. Here, the one to the left of the truck had just foolishly run across the two ‘live’ lanes, not only leaving a colleague behind by the median but also creating double-danger from the perspective of approaching drivers — a time for drivers to really get speed off. (Copyright image, 2018.)

One thing we all need to remember, however, is that roadside workers are not necessarily all to be found within the cones and barriers of well demarcated construction zones.  Those zones have to be created and then removed — times of even greater risk for the workers.

A nighttime photograph of a construction zone on an interstate highway showing several workers on foot.
Two of the five men who can be seen on foot in this nighttime scene are on ‘our’ side of the median. (Copyright image, 2018.)

Another common excuse given by speeders in construction zones is that it is nighttime therefore nobody will be working.  That may be true on some occasions but certainly not on others.  Indeed, the faster and busier a road might usually be, the more likely it is that repair work will be carried out in the relatively quiet hours of the night.

The man in the cherry-picker was the only worker who could see our car. The one by the truck was too busy messing with his cell phone, and the flagger was gazing towards the receding motorcycle, in the far distance! Heads up, guys!  (Copyright image, 2018.)

As with so many aspects of road safety, however, this is — forgive the pun — a “two-way street!”  Roadside workers can themselves get too complacent  (I’ve been there and done it during my years as a traffic patrol police officer — we are all human.)  So it is essential that they remain vigilant, too.

Traffic sign for a 55mph speed limit in a construction zone

Meanwhile, drivers please remember that you ignore these signs at somebody else’s peril!

Try imagining that one of the workers was your mother or father, your sister or brother, or your son or daughter…. that is a good way to get it right…. and save a life.


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