Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Traffic Management Attenuators: The unsung hero of work zones

By Cara Mitchell

One sunny November morning in 2022, Traffic Control Supervisor Rummel Aguinaldo was part of a team applying lane markings on State Route 516 in Kent. To apply lane markings, crews form a caravan of trucks with flashing lights. These trucks move slowly down a section of highway to apply the lane markings.

The crew had two Traffic Management Attenuators, also known as TMAs, behind the caravan of work trucks. So, what exactly is a TMA or more specifically an attenuator? In a nutshell, it's a safety cushion mounted on the back of a truck. Highway construction crews use TMAs in their traffic control plan because they are designed to absorb the energy of a collision if someone drives into it. The TMA also reduces damage and redirects traffic away from people in work areas.

On this particular morning, the TMA did what it was designed to do: protect the crew. Despite having advanced warning signs almost 1,500 feet away, a driver crashed into the back of the TMA. In the moments following the collision, the crew's safety training kicked in. Crew members made sure people were safe, vehicles were stopped to prevent another collision from occurring and a call to 911 was made for emergency responders.

Phot of damage to a contractor TMA following a collision on SR 516 in 2022
Damage to a contractor TMA following a collision on SR 516 in 2022

Rummel works for Advanced Government Services, a private company that provides traffic control and safety plans for contractors and local governments. He has been part of work zone crews throughout western Washington and Oregon. The most common mistake he sees drivers make in work zones is using their cell phone.

"People are on their cell phone either holding their phone to their ear or texting, which is definitely a huge distraction because they aren't paying attention while driving."

Distracted or inattentive driving is one of the top three leading causes of work zone crashes on highways.

In 2023, there were 231 distracted driver or inattentive citations issued in state roadway work zone crashes.

Just like Rummel, our crews say they regularly see drivers looking at phones, texting, watching shows or using other devices while blowing past signs about slowing down or stopping – which puts everyone on the road at risk.

Photo showing first responders at collision scene on SR 516 in Kent
First responders at collision scene on SR 516 in Kent

State law makes driving under the influence of electronics (E-DUI) illegal and expensive.

  • First E-DUI ticket - $136
  • Second E-DUI ticket in 5 years - $234
  • All E-DUI tickets are reported to insurance companies and could lead to higher rates
  • Other forms of distracted driving (not involving electronic devices) bring a $99 ticket

We need your help

While we are grateful there are TMAs in our work zones, we also need all drivers to put down their phones and pay attention, especially when driving through work zones. Road crews are there to help keep all travelers safe.

Employees in work zones are spouses, parents, children, siblings and friends – and they all deserve to go home safe at the end of their shift. They aren't nameless or faceless; and they deserve our respect and extra attention.

We ask all drivers in work zones to:

  • 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