By Rhonda Oaks
Texas Departmentof Transportation
I have good news and bad news. The good news? In 2022, traffic fatalities in TxDOT work zones declined 16-percent from 2021. That is the first decline since 2018 and it makes me think the TxDOT safety message just might be getting through to some drivers. But the bad news is there were still 205 people who lost their lives and another 788 seriously injured in work zones in 2022. In the nine-county Lufkin District, there were 223 traffic crashes in work zones that resulted in three fatalities and 11 serious injuries.
This week is National Work Zone Awareness Week, and TxDOT is calling on motorists to make safety a priority in our work zones.
All of us have had to slow down or stop in road construction at one time or another. Many of us drive through a work zone daily. They require extra attention on our part, and most of us just want to hurry up and get through the slow construction traffic. I know impatience and frustration can get the best of us as we sit in a single lane of traffic waiting for a lead car to make the turn-around.
The next time you are caught in that situation, imagine what it would be like if you spent your day working a couple of feet away from moving traffic. Our employees love their jobs, but road construction and maintenance are not for the faint of heart. You must be tough, committed and be able to concentrate on your work as well as keep one eye open for distracted drivers.
In 2022, work zone fatalities included not just drivers and passengers, but 27 pedestrians, two cyclists and one worker. Why did these needless deaths occur? The leading causes were speeding, distraction and unsafe lane changes. I’ve caught myself doing all three things as I enter a work zone. You have too.
Work zone and worker safety are top priorities for TxDOT, but truth is, statistics show that motorists and their passengers are more likely to die in a work zone. That’s enough information right there for us all to change our driving habits.
Work zones are challenging, and they can be dangerous. While the decline in fatalities is encouraging, one life lost is too many. There are a few things every driver should know and observe when entering a work zone.
•Slow down. Observe the work zone speed limit. It is there for a reason. We already know the safest speed for work zones. One motivator for following those suggested speed limits is that fines double when workers are present.
•Pay attention. Don’t drive distracted. That means put the phone down, put both hands on the wheel, and watch that car in front of, behind, and beside you.
•Keep one eye out for our workers. They are easy to spot. They wear safety gear that is reflective and includes hard hats. They wear those things because they want to get home safely just like you do.
•Don’t tailgate. Give yourself plenty of room. A work zone is no place to be in a hurry and rear-end crashes are common.
National Work Zone Awareness Week has been around since 2000, so we should all be familiar with the do’s and don’ts., but TxDOT continues to work to educate motorists on the challenges of driving through work zones.
The Move Over/Slow Down law has been successful at helping us do just that. If you don’t know about it or have forgotten it, let me help you.
•The Move Over/Slow Down law is intended to help protect roadside crews and first responders, and to reduce the number of crashes, fatalities, and injuries on our roadways.
•The law requires drivers to move over a lane or reduce their speed to 20 mph below the posted speed limit when they approach a TxDOT vehicle, law enforcement, emergency vehicle, tow truck or utility vehicle stopped with flashing lights activated on the side of the road.
•Failure to heed the Move Over/Slow Down law can result in fines of up to $2,000.
So, the next time you enter a work zone, please observe the Move Over/Slow Down law. Watch out for our workers and watch out for ‘those’ drivers who aren’t paying attention. Seems like we encounter them everywhere we go. No doubt, I’ll see you soon in a work zone and I sure hope you aren’t one of ‘those’ drivers.