Thursday, April 28, 2022

Work Zone Awareness Month is ending but need for safety continues year-round

By Celeste Dimichina

Throughout the year and especially through the month of April, which is Work Zone Awareness Month, we spend a significant amount of time reminding the public about the importance of work zone safety. And while that month is ending, the need for drivers to continue to help keep road workers safe is a year-round effort.

If you follow us on any of our social media platforms, it’s not hard to see why we do this. Rarely a week goes by when we don’t post about an incident when someone has crashed into one of our work zones. And so, we want to continually bring attention to the issue, in hopes that it will make a difference in even one person’s driving behavior and choices.

While our attenuator trucks provide a valuable piece of protection for work crews, it’s also not unusual for
our workers in the truck to suffer injuries when they are crashed into.

One area where we have seen a significant increase in the number of close calls and crashes in our work zones in the past year is Clark County. In 2021 there were 28 crashes in work zones or backups around work zones in the county. And, when looking at crashes specifically into our vehicles or crews, just between May 2021 and March 2022 alone, there were five incidents where a driver crashed into our road crews, their work vehicles or work equipment. Thankfully, our crews were able to walk away from these crashes, but they still suffered minor injuries in some cases and endured the trauma of being in a situation that should never happen. And, tragically, others involved in the incidents had much dire outcomes.

  • On May 12, 2021 a vehicle crashed into our sweeper truck working in the left lane along westbound SR 500 in Vancouver. The driver tried to swerve around our sweeper but crashed into it. Fortunately, no one was injured.
  • On Aug. 12, 2021 a car crashed into our truck mounted attenuator truck (a buffer vehicle) which was protecting crews up ahead who were sweeping the left lane along southbound I-5 in Vancouver. The driver merged from the right lane, crossed all four lanes of the highway into the left lane and struck the rear right bumper of the attenuator. Tragically the driver whose car struck our truck was killed, as was one of three children also in the car..
  • On Aug. 16, 2021 a vehicle crashed into our attenuator truck which was parked in the left lane of the off-ramp from Mill Plain to northbound I-205 in Vancouver, protecting crews who were inspecting an overhead sign bridge.
  • On Feb. 2, 2022 our attenuator truck was parked in the left lane of southbound I-5 in Vancouver protecting crews doing guardrail repair when a vehicle crashed into the rear end of it. The Washington State Patrol determined the driver was under the influence.
  • On March 30, 2022 – Our crews were on the right shoulder of southbound I-5 in Vancouver repairing the irrigation system for the “Welcome to Washington” sign when a vehicle tried to merge around our crews but swerved when another vehicle was also merging and crashed into our work trailer. While luckily our crews weren’t hurt, the driver who crashed went to the hospital with minor injuries.
While Work Zone Awareness Month is about keeping road crews safe, we want everyone safe out there – 93 percent of work zone injuries are to the other driver, their passenger or nearby pedestrians.

These are just a few of the incidents this particular area has seen over the past year. Almost all of our road workers can talk about near-misses or worse that they’ve experienced. One worker spent several weeks recovering from a work zone crash only to be involved in another on his first day back. As you can imagine, being involved in multiple incidents over a long period of time can have a lasting impact on our workers’ health and wellbeing.

So why does this keep happening? There’s no one reason, really. According to the Washington State Patrol, the five that happened in Clark County were caused by varying factors including drivers being under the influence to simply not paying close enough attention while behind the wheel.

The one thing that ties all of the causes together is they are all preventable. Whether it’s speed, distraction or driving while inebriated, those are all choices drivers make, all of which put everyone at risk. It’s vital that drivers remember that road crews are real people working to improve the roadway and keep others safe while doing their jobs just inches away from live traffic. They are someone’s family and friend and depend on drivers to do their part to help keep everyone safe.

It’s vital that drivers stay alert for road crews, slow down and move over. Even attenuator
trucks can’t provide 100 percent protection.

So, what can you do to help?

  • SLOW DOWN! Reduce your speeds and obey the posted speed limit signs! Seriously!
  • STAY ALERT & MINIMIZE DISTRACTIONS. When you’re behind the wheel, dedicate your full attention to the roadway; avoid using your cell phone, playing with the radio or anything else that’s distracting your concentration.
  • FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS FROM FLAGGERS. Flaggers are directing traffic through work zones – they know when it’s safe for you to proceed, please follow their instructions.
  • INCREASE FOLLOWING DISTANACES. Keep a safe distance between yourself, road crews and equipment.
  • EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED. Work crews, work vehicles and equipment may enter your lane without warning, and other vehicles may slow down, stop or change lanes unexpectedly.
  • PAY ATTENTION TO ROAD SIGNS/FLASHING LIGHTS. Read and follow road signs, watch for brake lights on vehicles ahead of you and flashing lights on equipment.
  • KNOW BEFORE YOU GO. Ahead of your trip and before you get behind the wheel, check online resources like our website or mobile app to see what might be going on along your route. Knowing what to expect can help reduce frustration when you encounter traffic delays.

Lastly, please have patience and stay calm when you encounter work zones or see road crews working along roads and highways. After all, road crews are working to improve the road and make your trips safer and smoother. Do your part to ensure everyone makes it home safely at the end of the day.