Wednesday, April 12, 2023

He isn’t nameless or faceless: His name is Justin and he’s my brother

By RB McKeon

April marks an important month for us as we observe National Work Zone Awareness Week, which takes place April 17-21. We use this month to remind everyone why we need your help keeping our workers – and everyone on the road – safe in work zones. As a public information officer, I share a lot of safety messages about what to do anytime you're in or approaching a work zone. But in my role, I also see first-hand what can happen when people don't follow traffic control measures of the Move Over, Slow Down law.

Sometimes when we see safety campaign graphics they represent nameless, faceless people – so I want to take a minute to introduce you to my favorite Incident Response Team Member, Justin Backes – who also happens to be the best big brother a girl could have. Fun fact: we are six weeks apart and didn't meet until we were 9 years old when my dad married his mom. We grew up like twins – same age, same grade.

Justin Backes is an Incident Response Team member for us and RB McKeon is one of our public information officers. They are siblings and Work Zone Awareness month takes on special meaning for them.

As a member of our IRT, Justin works in King County, patrolling and helping disabled vehicles and drivers in need, responding to incidents on our state highways, coordinating traffic control with emergency response crews, removing debris and much more. This often means that he is outside of his truck as drivers whiz by without a second thought; however, if you are that driver in need, he is a welcome sight as he offers his assistance and provides a safe incident response zone.

In addition to being my big brother, Justin is also a husband to his high-school sweetheart, an amazing dad of three and a veteran (hoorah!). He is a coach, loves to BBQ, spends a lot of time working in the garage, attends as many school activities for the kiddos as he can, is an avid hockey fan (but he cheers for the wrong team) and without a doubt is the first to help out when you need it.

Justin and his high school sweetheart Rachael on their wedding day

Move over, slow down

The statistics say it all – nationally there's a collision in a work zone about every 5½ minutes. Last year in Washington, 1,192 collisions were reported in a work zone or in a work zone related back up. And, since 1950, our agency has had 60 workers killed on the job, the vast majority in marked work zones.

As a PIO, I watch our traffic cameras a lot and unfortunately, I often see erratic behavior in work zones which puts everyone at risk. Most work zone crashes are preventable. The top three reasons for these collisions are following too closely, excessive speed and distracted driving and inattention. And that is why we ask that when you see orange you adjust for work zone conditions. State law requires drivers to move over one lane, if possible, whenever passing emergency crews on the highway shoulder. This law applies to more than just law enforcement and fire trucks, it also includes our Incident Response trucks, highway maintenance vehicles, tow trucks, and solid waste and utility vehicles displaying flashing lights. Even if you can't move over, you can slow down and be alert.

While many work zone awareness graphics are just words and numbers, it’s important to remember that they represent real people working on the roads.

April is the month that we focus on work zone awareness – but for people like Justin, whose office is on our roadways, the real ask is that you focus on work zone awareness every time you are behind the wheel, all year long.

  • Slow Down – drive the posted speeds, they're there for your safety.
  • Be Kind – our workers are out there helping to keep you safe and improve the roadways.
  • Pay Attention – both to workers directing you and surrounding traffic; put down your phone when behind the wheel.
  • Stay Calm– expect delays, leave early or take an alternate route if possible; no meeting or appointment is worth risking someone's life.

To some, these are just words. But to people like Justin, and to people like me who want Justin and all road workers to get home safely, they are a matter of life and death. So please take them seriously, because the people out there working to keep us all safe are more than just an orange vest and hard hat.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Such a heartfelt message; it really touches on the matter. Thanks!

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