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The Unsafe Status Quo of American Work Zones Remains

Despite ongoing efforts to enhance safety, work zones across North America remain highly dangerous. Recent data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reveals a troubling trend in road safety once again for the US. With over 19,000 fatalities reported in the first half of 2023, the nation faces the risk of losing thousands more lives to car accidents unless significant action is taken. Why do so many lives continue to be lost on the road? In today’s blog, we aim to answer this question, exploring the enduring hazards of work zones and why they remain so dangerous, if not more so, even with efforts to enhance safety measures.

What Recent Data Says About Traffic Safety

Early Estimates of Motor Vehicle Traffic Fatalities and Fatality Rate 2023

The NHTSA recently released a report projecting traffic fatalities and the rate of fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles travelled (MIT) for the first half of 2023, from January to June. According to the report, an estimated 19, 515 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes during this period, with an estimated fatality rate of 1.24 per 100 million VMT. One significant finding is that traffic fatalities among the 15-24 age group increased by 6 percent. Additionally, several other notable findings emerged from the data collected between 2022 and 2023:

  • The estimated number of fatalities in rural areas rose from March to June.
  • Estimated fatalities during night-time hours (6 pm to 5:59 am) increased in April.
  • Estimated fatalities during weekends (6 pm Friday to 5:59 am Monday) increased in June.
  • Total estimated fatalities increased among individuals aged 65 and older.

Results from the 2022 Traffic Safety Culture Index Survey

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety is dedicated to raising awareness about traffic safety. They conduct an annual Traffic Safety Culture Index (TSCI) survey, which holds significant value, especially as work zones and roads become increasingly hazardous. These surveys provide insights into public perceptions of unsafe driving behaviours and help in developing preventive measures. Here is a breakdown of the key findings:

Distracted Driving

  • 93 percent of drivers see texting/emailing and reading on handheld cell phones as extremely dangerous. However, fewer consider holding and talking on the phone (76 percent) or using hands-free technology (19 percent) as hazardous.
  • Most drivers believe their loved ones would disapprove of them engaging in distracted driving (87-95 percent). Yet, over a quarter admit to sending a text/email while driving (27 percent), and more than a third admit to holding and talking on the phone while driving (38 percent). The majority use hands-free technology to talk/text/email while driving (59 percent.

Aggressive Driving

  • 83 percent of respondents find driving through a red light or quickly changing lanes and driving closely behind other vehicles (89 percent) to be extremely dangerous.
  • Around 63 percent of drivers believe they would be caught by the police for driving 15 mph over the speed limit. Yet, about half admit to doing so within 30 days of the survey.

Impaired Driving

  • Most drivers see driving after drinking (94 percent) as extremely dangerous, and over half believe such drivers are likely to be caught by the police (68 percent).
  • In contrast, only 70 percent of drivers see driving after using marijuana as very dangerous.

Reports on Road Construction Accidents

Numerous articles from North American news sources have emphasized the urgent need for work zone safety. Several months ago, an article titled “Flagger injured during work zone incident on Old Mayfield Road” deeply affected McCracken County. In this incident, a flagger was injured in a work zone accident while trying to halt traffic on KY 994 near the railroad crossing north of the Freemont community. The flagger was struck by a driver who disregarded the stop sign, attempting to drive through the closed work zone. The McCracken County Sheriff’s Department conducted an investigation, but no charges were filed against the driver, although they could have been cited for disregarding the stop sign and endangering workers, according to KYTC. This occurrence serves as a stark reminder for all drivers to exercise caution when navigating through work zones. It’s crucial to remember that the traffic directives given by a flagger hold the same authority as those of a police officer directing traffic.

AGC Highway Work Zone Safety Survey

Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) and Heavy Construction Systems Specialists, Inc., (HCSS) officials are advocating for stricter safety measures and educational initiatives following the Annual Highway Work Zone Safety Survey, which highlights escalating dangers to both drivers and workers. The 2023 survey revealed that 55 percent of highway contractors experienced motor vehicle crashes in their work zones over the past year, posing significant risks. Among these incidents, 72 percent of construction workers sustained injuries, while 41 percent of drivers and/or passengers were also affected. Shockingly, these crashes resulted in 92 percent of construction worker fatalities and 84 percent of driver and/or passenger fatalities. Compared to the previous year, more than half of survey participants now view highway work zone crashes as a heightened risk (57 percent). The primary factors identified in road construction accidents include phone usage (83 percent), speeding (73 percent), and traffic congestion (56 percent). The survey respondents largely advocate for increased police presence at work zone sites (79 percent) and stricter enforcement of existing laws regarding work zone moving violations (65 percent) as effective measures to reduce such crashes.

FHWAs Proposed Rule Changes

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is proposing changes to its regulations governing traffic safety in highway and street work zones. Acknowledging that increased road construction activities can cause travel disruptions, leading to congestion, crashes, and public frustration, the proposed amendments aim to address broader safety and mobility concerns of work zones more effectively. Work zones are crucial for maintaining and upgrading our aging roadway infrastructure, and their activities are expected to rise with increased funding set for several highway and bridge programs. Despite this funding, work zones already have significant safety and mobility impacts, with 857 fatalities occurring in 774 crashes, according to FHWA data. The proposed changes cover a variety of topics, including new guidelines for the appropriate use of temporary traffic control devices and the allocation of funds. This includes measures to enhance workers’ safety and law enforcement presence. The percentage of highway worker fatalities caused by vehicle collisions has been increasing, from 35 percent in 2015 to 53 percent in 2020. Positive protective measures, such as barriers, will be mandated as an attempt to curb this trend, aiming to separate workers from traffic in work zones where escape routes are often limited. While industry stakeholders support the proposal’s objectives, concerns have been raised about the lack of supporting research. To address this, modifications have been made to require engineering studies for the installation of longitudinal traffic barriers and other protective devices. Additionally, new technologies like work zone intelligent transport systems and automated flagger assistance devices are viable options to mitigate the safety and mobility impacts of work zones and should be included in the regulation.

What this Means for Motorists

There’s a lot to unpack with the above statistics. The bottom line is that road construction accidents affect us all in some way. It’s essential to avoid driving when tired, impaired, or engaging in aggressive or distracted behaviours. Not only are you risking your own life and the lives of your passengers, but you’re also jeopardizing everyone else on the road. The consequences can be severe– from life-threatening injuries and fatalities to fines and other penalties. When you’re driving, stay focused, follow traffic laws, and remain calm. Your safety and the safety of others depend on it!

What this Means for Workers

Working in road or highway work zones comes with numerous worries. Each day, you face the risk of distracted drivers, or if you’re on the night shift, potentially impaired drivers who may not see you and could hit you with their vehicle. This danger means not being able to return home to your family. Thankfully, we offer a solution– our Automated Flagger Assistance Devices (AFADs). The use of our RCF2.4 removes flaggers from harm’s way, allowing them to operate the traffic without exposure to potential hazards. Controlled by a Traffic Control Person from a safe location, AFADs offer a secure and efficient alternative to traditional flagging methods.

Get Smart About Safety: Contact us Today

Join us in making a difference. Together, with temporary traffic control devices like our AFADs, we can reverse troubling trends and truly improve work zone safety. Reach out to us for personalized consultations and discover how North America Traffic can enhance your construction crew this summer. Need a quick quote? Our Request a Quote page is just a click away.