Most drivers in Virginia will encounter at least one work zone during their daily travels. With more than 275 million cell phone users in the U.S., it has become increasingly common to see multi-tasking drivers attempting to dial, text or talk on their cell phones while driving through a work zone.
April 19 to 23 is National Work Zone Awareness Week. In observance of this national commemoration of those who have lost their lives in work zones, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is joining other state departments of transportation and transportation industry partners to raise awareness of the dangers associated with distracted drivingâ€”especially when driving through work zones.
“I see it all the timeâ€”someone driving through the work zone with their cell phone to their ear, trying to have a conversation while they maneuver around traffic cones and construction equipment,” says Staunton District Work Zone Safety Coordinator, Forester Wright. “If they knew how dangerous this was for them and the workers, they’d put the phone down.”
It’s not just for workers safety that drivers need to pay attention. Work zone injuries and deaths most often involve motorists, not workers. On average, four out of five people killed in work zone crashes are drivers, not highway workers.
Nationally, 720 workers and motorists were killed in highway work zones and more than 40,000 were injured in 2008. In Virginia, there were more than 2,000 crashes in work zones on state-maintained roadways in 2008, the last full year for which data was available. Of those crashes, seven people died and more than 1,000 were injured.
Statistics show that the majority of crashes occurred on primary routes and involved drivers in their early 20s.
“Highway work zones are one of the most dangerous places for both drivers and workers,” said Acting Commissioner Greg Whirley. “You can decrease your chances of being involved in a work zone crash if you develop a habit of putting distractions away, like cell phones, when you see signs alerting you to a work zone ahead.”
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nearly 6,000 people died in the U.S. in 2008 as the result of distracted driving. In July 2009, a new state law went into effect making text messaging while driving a secondary traffic offense. Driving studies conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) revealed that manual manipulation of cell phones while driving, such as dialing or texting, leads to an increased risk of being involved in a crash or near-crash. Other key findings of the VTTI study include:
Automobile drivers who are dialing a cell phone are nearly three times more likely to be involved in a crash than non-distracted drivers. The crash risk doubles for truck drivers.
Text messaging while driving was associated with the highest risk for commercial vehicle driversâ€”more than 23 times what it would be for non-distracted drivers
Drivers are encouraged to follow these simple rules when driving through a work zone:
- Minimize distractions – Avoid activities when driving such as using cell phones, changing radio stations, eating or engaging in any activity that takes your eyes off the roadway.
- Pay close attention – Signs and work zone flaggers save lives.
- Turn on your headlights – Workers and other motorists must see you.
- Don’t tailgate – Unexpected stops frequently occur in work zones.
- Don’t speed – Note the speed limits in and around the work zone.
- Keep up with traffic flow – Dedicate your full attention to the road and those traveling around you.
- Don’t change lanes in the work zone – The time saved just isn’t worth it.
- Expect the unexpected – Keep an eye out for workers and their equipment.
- Be patient – Remember, the road crews are working to improve your future travels.
VDOT will hold a vigil honoring state highway transportation workers who died while performing their jobs on Tuesday, April 20 from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the VDOT Workers’ Memorial. The monument is located along I-64 east at mile marker 102 near Afton Mountain in Albemarle County. It was built in 2004 and paid for entirely by contributions from citizens and VDOT employees. The site provides a place where family members, friends and colleagues can reflect on their loss and where travelers can become more aware of the sacrifices state highway transportation workers make everyday.