Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Treat highway workers as if they were your family – because they are someone's family

By Beth Bousley

Rick Broderius has an easy way for everyone to take work zone safety seriously. A maintenance worker in the Ellensburg area since 1997, Rick wants people to consider how they would drive if that worker was their parent, kid or grandchild working in the road. Would you do everything you could to ensure their safety?
Well, just remember that those workers are in fact someone's family, friend and co-worker.

"Do you want to place them in any more danger than they already are?" Rick asked. "Put your phone down, slow down and pay attention."
Even though visibility was low, drivers kept traveling through this smoke putting themselves and our workers at risk.

Rick has seen a lot of close calls because of inattentive drivers or materials flying off of loads that are not properly secured. Distracted driving is a particular problem. A few years ago during a fire near Ellensburg, the Washington State Patrol pulled over 40 vehicles in one hour for speeding or taking pictures of the fire as they drove by the incident. In one case, all three passengers and the driver had their phones out.

"It just doesn't make any sense," Rick said.
Plowing in winter conditions takes lots of concentration so drivers should be extra cautious around plows and give them plenty of room.

In the winter, Rick operates a wing snow plow which has a plow on the front and on the side. His favorite route is along I-90 near Vantage where the weather and road conditions can get dicey. Rick said he remembers wind blowing so strongly while he was going westbound across the Vantage bridge that it sounded like rocks hitting the windshield.

Operating the plow is no easy job as he must manage both front and side plows, ensure that the proper amounts of deicer, salt and sand are being applied to the highways, call in weather and road conditions, and report collisions. The last thing he wants to worry about is someone tailgating or passing illegally, putting him in danger.

He also notes that passing a plow does a driver no good. The safest place to be is well behind a plow, letting it clear the road for you rather than speeding ahead of it into snowy and icy conditions.
The driver of this motorcycle was traveling in broad daylight with half a mile of visibility when he crashed into the back of an attenuator truck, injuring himself, the truck driver, and putting others at risk. In the mile prior to the collision, he passed three signs indicating there was roadwork ahead.

When a lane needs to be closed or a detour put in place, workers safely harness into the back of a "road warrior truck" to place cones and signs to set up the work zone. To protect those workers, the road warrior truck is followed by an attenuator – or buffer – truck, so named for its huge bumper cushion. Those attenuator trucks often are the difference between a safe work zone and tragedy.

Rick remembers a few years ago when a motorcycle slammed into the back of the attenuator truck, injuring both the motorcyclist and our worker in the truck.

"Just imagine what would have happened if that buffer truck hadn't been there," he said.

We do the best we can to give travelers as much advance notice of road work as possible, from traffic advisories, social media messaging, web site notices and advance signage on the highways. But in cases of emergencies, it's not always possible to give advanced notice and that's when we need people to pay attention the most.

Rick said he was working at a fire once when a driver stopped in the middle of the work zone to ask why no advanced notice of the fire was given, causing vehicles behind him to come to an abrupt stop. He was told there were flashing yellow signs advising of an incident leading up to the scene. Fortunately no one was hurt but in our state, 94 percent of work zone injuries are to the driver, passengers or nearby pedestrians.

That's why it's important for everyone to do their part to keep both workers and the traveling public safe. This is National Work Zone Awareness Week but every week we ask travelers to remember:
  • Slow Down – drive the posted speeds, they're there for your safety
  • Be Kind – our workers are helping to keep you safe and improve the roadways
  • Pay Attention – both to workers directing you and surrounding traffic
  • Stay Calm – expect delays, leave early or take an alternate route if possible; no meeting or appointment is worth risking someone's life
Our work zones are carefully planned and often include lane closures as an added precaution. But emergency vehicles on the side of the road – including highway maintenance trucks with flashing lights – also need your attention. Please remember to Move Over when approaching them if it's possible; if not, state law requires you to Slow Down to 10 mph under the posted speed limit as you pass by.

Transportation crews work while traffic moves closely by. They are there working to keep all travelers safe and deserve our respect and extra attention.

"We work hard to ensure safety every day, but we also need the public's help," Rick said. "Just like them, we have families and loved ones to get home to."