In observance of National Work Zone Awareness Week, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is joining other state departments of transportation and transportation industry partners to raise awareness of the dangers associated with distracted driving—especially when driving through work zones.
“I see it all the time—someone driving through the work zone with their cell phone to their ear, trying to have a conversation while they maneuver around traffic cones and construction equipment,” said Staunton District Work Zone Safety Coordinator, Forester Wright. “If they knew how dangerous this was for them and the workers, they’d put the phone down.”
It’s not just for workers safety that drivers need to pay attention. Work-zone injuries and deaths most often involve motorists, not workers. On average, four-out-of-five people killed in work-zone crashes are drivers, not highway workers.
Nationally, 720 workers and motorists were killed in highway work zones and more than 40,000 were injured in 2008. In Virginia, there were more than 2,000 crashes in work zones on state-maintained roadways in 2008, the last full year for which data was available. Of those crashes, seven people died and more than 1,000 were injured.
Statistics show that the majority of crashes occurred on primary routes and involved drivers in their early 20s.
“Highway work zones are one of the most dangerous places for both drivers and workers,” said Acting VDOT Commissioner Greg Whirley. “You can decrease your chances of being involved in a work-zone crash if you develop a habit of putting distractions away, like cell phones, when you see signs alerting you to a work zone ahead.”
In July 2009, a new Virginia state law went into effect making text messaging while driving a secondary traffic offense. Driving studies conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) revealed that manual manipulation of cell phones while driving, such as dialing or texting, leads to an increased risk of being involved in a crash or near-crash. Other key findings of the VTTI study included:
Automobile drivers who are dialing a cell phone are nearly three times more likely to be involved in a crash than non-distracted drivers. The crash risk doubles for truck drivers; and
Text messaging while driving was associated with the highest risk for commercial vehicle drivers—more than 23 times what it would be for non-distracted drivers.