The nation's chief highway official, likening roads to "offices" of highway workers, set up her office in the middle of a busy interstate interchange on April 6 to demonstrate the danger to drivers, passengers and workers from unsafe driving habits in highway work zones.
Work zone fatalities increased nationwide 53% from 1998 to 2002, according to Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) data. Four out of five people killed were either drivers or passengers.
FHWA Administrator Mary Peters said a combination of government safety programs and safe-driving habits can significantly reduce the more than 52,000 injuries and fatalities that occur each year in highway work zones.
"Work zone accidents pose tremendous costs to our society," Peters said. "The human cost is the most tragic and the most critical. But there's also the economic cost that results from congestion, unexpected delays and delayed freight deliveries. Making work zones safer is part of the commitment by President Bush and Secretary Mineta to keep the American economy moving."
Peters kicked off National Work Zone Awareness Week from her "outside" office near I-95 in Springfield, Va., an area commonly referred to as the "mixing bowl" because of recent massive construction of the interchange.
"Safety is not a spectator sport," said Peters. "While government can and is doing a lot to make work zones safer, our highway crews need you to slow down and take simple but practical precautions. Drivers should remember that they and their passengers are also in danger from carelessness in work zones."
Peters offered 10 tips for driving safely in work zones including: expect the unexpected; slow down; don't tailgate; keep a safe distance between you and the car ahead of you; pay attention to the signs; obey road crew flaggers; stay alert and minimize distractions; keep up with traffic flow; schedule enough time to drive safely and check radio, TV and websites for traffic information; and be patient and stay calm.
National Work Zone Awareness Week began on April 4. The week is an annual event dedicated to improving public awareness of the dangers posed to motorists and construction workers by highway work zones.
"Construction workers must do their jobs next to roadways--in many cases with vehicles traveling at 60 miles per hour or faster," said Stephen E. Sandherr, CEO of the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC). "Our goal is to make motorists aware that they are an important part of reducing accidents, injuries and deaths in work zones."
Roadway construction workers are killed at a rate nearly three times higher than other construction workers and eight times higher than general industry workers, according to an American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) review of federal data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The fatality rate for roadway construction workers is 32 people for every 100,000 workers. By comparison, the rate for all construction is about 13 people per 100,000 and the general industry rate is about 4 people per 100,000 workers.
The findings were released in conjunction with the fifth annual National Work Zone Awareness Week.
ARTBA has developed several programs aimed specifically at improving worker safety, including training seminars, the National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse, the Industry, Labor Group and Federal Government Alliance, and the "Roadway Construction Safety Management Manual."