Monday, April 4, 2022

Work Zone Awareness Month kicks off following extremely challenging crash-filled March

By Mike Allende

This was a tough blog to write. We started working on it the second week of March, when it became clear we were seeing a significant rise in major collisions all over the state. We wanted to call more attention to it, ask people to help do their part to keep everyone safe. In short, drive responsibly.

But they just kept happening. Each time we felt the blog was done, several more large crashes happened, leading to more editing. With March over and major collisions continuing to happen regularly, we knew we needed to get this out now.

April is Work Zone Awareness Month at WSDOT and while not all of March’s crashes involved work zones, several did, including one on I-5 in Tacoma that left two of our contractors severely injured. Nationally, Work Zone Awareness Week will be observed April 11-15 this year. So there’s really no better time than now to ask drivers to do their part to keep themselves and everyone else safe.

The truth is, most drivers do drive safely. Unfortunately, it only takes one bad decision to lead to tragedy.

While providing traffic control for a disabled vehicle and tow truck on westbound I-90 near Easton, our attenuator truck was struck from behind. Fortunately there were no major injuries. The Washington State Patrol took the driver of the vehicle that struck our truck into custody for possible DUI.

Noticeable, but not necessarily new

While March seemed to have a spike in serious collisions, it continued a trend we’ve seen since the COVID pandemic began in early 2020. Since that time, while the total number of crashes dropped, the seriousness of them increased, and it’s a worrying trend as we head into warmer months when we expect more people to be on the roads. And that doesn’t mean just people in cars. More pedestrians and people on bicycles and motorcycles will be out to enjoy our beautiful Pacific Northwest spring and summer. More roadworkers will be out with drier, more favorable weather.

And we want them all to be safe.

That’s why we’re again asking the traveling public to help us curb this trend – we need everyone, every day to be looking out for themselves and others around them.  Because from a statewide view, the past month has been truly alarming.

After a truck lost this mattress on I-5 in Mountlake Terrace, a car swerved to avoid it and ran into a semi. The driver of the car was tragically killed. (Photo courtesy Washington State Patrol)

What are the causes?

The thing about this past month (and the past two years) is, there hasn’t been just one cause.

We’ve seen speeding, like when a motorcyclist was killed when he crashed into a disabled tow truck on the side of I-5 in Federal Way.

We’ve seen negligent driving, like when a driver struck a barrier on I-90 near Liberty Lake, then hit another vehicle which got pinned underneath a semitruck, sending one person to the hospital.

We’ve seen impaired driving, like when a driver struck two bicyclists on SR 28 in Douglas County, sending both of them to the hospital with serious injuries.

We’ve seen a failure to secure loads, like when a truck lost a mattress on I-5 in Mountlake Terrace, causing a vehicle to swerve to avoid it and crashing into a semi. The driver of the vehicle swerving was killed.

And we’ve seen a combination, like two vehicles reportedly going more than 100 mph that crashed into our I-5 Tacoma work zone, seriously injuring two contractors. The crash was so bad that crews on the scene initially feared at last one injured worker wouldn’t survive. The State Patrol said that impaired driving may also have been involved.

Two vehicles speeding at a very high rate of speed entered our I-5 Puyallup River Bridge work zone and collided with each other, sending one of them into our contractor’s truck and severely injuring two workers. The Washington State Patrol believes DUI played a role in the crash and one driver was arrested for investigation of vehicular assault.

These are just a few of the larger incidents. There have been many others, and even more if you take into account city streets and county roads. All of these incidents are tragic, and our hearts go out to those who were hurt or killed as well as their friends and families.

But while there are a number of causes, one thing is common among them: they are also all preventable. Speed. Impairment. Distracted driving. Carelessness securing loads. These are all decisions that drivers make either behind the wheel or before they get into vehicles. All of these decisions put themselves, other travelers and highway workers in danger. And they all lead to terrible results.

At best, highway infrastructure is damaged and 100s if not 1,000s of other travelers are delayed. While frustrating, those can be fixed. It’s the lives changed by these actions that can’t be repaired.

This car struck two bicycle riders on SR 28 in Douglas County, sending both bicyclists to the hospital with serious injuries. The driver was arrested for DUI and vehicular assault. (Photo courtesy Washington State Patrol)

Please do your part

As we head into the warmer months, the temptation to drive faster on dry, clear roads will be there. We’ll see more people strapping items to their vehicles, either to move or for road trips. There will be no shortage of potential distractions.

We need drivers to remember that their highest priority when behind the wheel is safety. Safety for themselves, and safety for others. Everyone out there – whether in a car, on foot, on a bike or otherwise – has friends, family and a life. We need everyone to respect and be aware of that.

Driving a vehicle is a big responsibility. One second of distraction, one decision to drink and drive or simply going too fast and being reckless, can have lasting effects on many others. So please do your part to slow the trend of serious crashes by always staying focused and alert, slowing down, securing your loads and respecting the lives of everyone else out on the roads.