I have noticed recently that on every trip I take, whether I am headed to work or just running errands, I encounter a fresh set of orange cones marking the scene of new roadside construction. Stimulus dollars have aided in the rebuilding of our nation's infrastructure and have made work zones more commonplace than they have been since Eisenhower was in office. Adding more fuel to the fire is the proposed increase in dollars dedicated to infrastructure improvements in the new highway transportation bill. With so much happening, the safety ramifications of increased exposure to roadside construction must be considered.
As recently as 2005, the American Transportation Research Institute discovered that the number of vehicles involved in a fatal crash is typically higher when the incident occurs within a roadway work zone. Also, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, nearly one-fourth of all fatal crashes that occur in these areas involve a large truck. Of course, neither of these findings is particularly shocking to those in the trucking industry. Many carriers devote portions of their driver training to increasing awareness of the additional dangers that exist when traveling through a work zone. That being said, with so much infrastructure work being done, now is the perfect time for your drivers to take a refresher course.
To aid in your highway safety training efforts, the Federal Highway Administration has developed the National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse, which you can find at www.workzonesafety.org. This easy-to-use resource provides access to road closure reports, new laws and regulations, even a list of experts to call on when advice is needed. With all this and more, the clearinghouse can be a valuable tool for all safety personnel working to enhance their veteran and entry-level driver programs.
In addition to increased awareness, pre- and post-trip inspections can help prevent accidents associated with roadway work zones. A driver may not be immediately aware of damage that occurred when traveling through these areas. With a thorough inspection, however, he or she may discover the problem, remedy it, and develop a plan to prevent it from recurring.
Accidents and vehicle damage are not the only problems associated with an increase in the number of work zones. Fines in many states double when infractions occur in one of these areas. And these penalties are not just assessed for speeding. In some states, fines or even jail time can be assessed for any moving violation, which certainly would put a damper on the bottom line of any driver or carrier. In New York, for example, if a driver is convicted of speeding in a work zone, he or she can face 30 days in jail, a $600 fine — or both. In Iowa, all moving violations occurring in a work zone can be cited for twice the amount of a normal fine, and speeders can be fined up to $1,000.
As infrastructure improvement dollars, via stimulus or highway reauthorization, finally find their way to our bridges and roads, it's time to emphasize extra awareness to your drivers. It may be one of your best assets when it comes to avoiding accidents. Although the long-term benefits of highway construction are many, traveling through work zones is certainly no easy task and it pays to be aware.
David Heller, CDS, is director of safety and policy for the Truckload Carriers Assn., responsible for interpreting and communicating industry-related regulations and legislation to the membership of TCA. Forward comments to Mr. Heller at Safety411@truckload.org