09 Oct Workers Ahead: How to Safely Navigate Roadside Construction
Working on roadways and highways put workers at increased risk of injury and death. Drivers should exercise additional caution when driving through highway work zones.
Work zones already pose risks to contractors and construction workers who have to handle heavy machinery and deal with noisy environments. The risk is increased significantly on highway projects, where workers have to also be aware of oncoming traffic.
A recent highway work zone study by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGCA) found that 44% of highway contractors reported experiencing vehicles crashing into their work zones at least once within the past year; 49% of those reported crashes resulted in an injury to a driver or passenger.
Driving Around Highway Work Zones
Though common, work zone crashes are easily preventable, provided that drivers follow basic rules of the road:
- Drive the posted speed limit. In any driving situation, higher speeds directly correspond to higher risk of automotive fatalities. Speeding also makes it more difficult for drivers to react and maneuver out of dangerous situations. In most cases, work zones will have significantly reduced posted speed limits to safely travel near pedestrian workers.
- Keep your headlights on. This will help you keep an eye on any road work, and even in well-lit environments, headlights can make sure that workers are aware that your vehicle is approaching.
- Pay attention to flaggers. These are workers designated to guide drivers through traffic and away from other workers.
- Watch the road ahead not the vehicle you’re following. Many drivers navigate the road by keeping an eye on the vehicle in front of them. Scanning the entire road ahead will keep you cognizant of any upcoming obstructions or road changes, including any workers who may have stepped into the roadway.
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) provides similar safety tips to drivers, with a few additions. For example, the FHWA notes that drivers should never operate vehicles while distracted, and that is doubly so for drivers going through work zones.
Drivers should also make sure to merge into the proper lane. The FHWA advises drivers to merge into indicated lanes as soon as possible instead of trying to speed ahead to beat traffic, because traffic patterns can change without notice.
Always expect the unexpected, and watch out for accidents that may cause workers, work vehicles, or equipment to enter a highway lane without warning. Other vehicles may also slow, stop, or change lanes unexpectedly.
Patience is the key to keeping highway work zones safe.
Safety Goes Both Ways
Highway work zone safety works both ways. While there are guidelines drivers should follow, road workers have their own safety rules on the job too. Successful safety policies for any workers depend on drivers executing safe driving practices. Similarly, drivers should be aware of worker behaviors.
The AGCA also found in its study that noon is the peak time for work fatalities for contractors. The study suggested that this is the result of workers returning from a break, who could be more distracted or relaxed than they normally would be.
Drivers and workers should also be extra cautious during night time hours, from about 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. Visibility is often decreased and fatigue is often increased around this time. There is also an increased risk of impaired drivers traveling through the work zone.
Following the Signs
Highway work teams deploy orange signage to help decrease the risk of accidents in work zones. To improve safe driving, it’s best to learn exactly what the various highway work zone signs mean:
- “Road Work Ahead” lets you know to expect workers ahead and prepare for unusual driving conditions.
- Two arrows facing opposite directions means that two directions of traffic are funneled into a single lane, and be alert for oncoming drivers.
- “Pilotcar Follow Me” indicates that all vehicles in traffic will be guided through the work zone by a designated vehicle.
- One straight line and one bent line indicates that a lane is about to end, and vehicles should either merge or watch for merging vehicles.
- A picture of a person waving a flag means prepare to stop and follow instructions from a flagger.
- “Detour” tells drivers that a road is closed and an alternate route will have to be taken.
- “End Roadwork” indicates the end of a work zone and drivers may resume driving normally.
Highway work zones are dangerous enough as it is, and with a few changes to driving behavior, drivers can help keep these zones safe for workers, drivers, and passengers.