Drop your phone

May 1, 2015

Distracted driving in work zones needs to stop

Who would have imagined five years ago that cell phones and texting would become so deadly?

As an avid motorcyclist, I can attest that literally every “close encounter” I have with a four-wheeler features a distracted driver either talking on a cell phone or texting. As bad as it is on the open roadways, imagine how dangerous it is in the confines of a roadway work zone.

In ceremonies and events across the country April 23-27, National Work Zone Awareness Week was observed to draw public attention to the hazards in and around roadway work zones. Coincidentally, the month of April is now National Distracted Driving Awareness Month. How well the two issues go hand-in-hand.

When National Work Zone Awareness Week was created in December 1999, the public was asked to slow down to posted speed limits, stay in their lanes, keep a safe distance between other vehicles and expect the unexpected. Can we please add “put the phone down” to the list?

On April 23, during the 2012 National Work Zone Awareness Week kickoff event in St. Louis, Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez said, “Trying to drive while you’re texting or talking on the phone is dangerous under any circumstances, but it’s especially dangerous in the often-unexpected conditions that drivers face in a work zone.”

At the same event in St. Louis, the father and mother of a young man killed in a work zone told their heartbreaking story to the large gathering. The father, who is a professional trucker, said he regularly observes distracted, erratic drivers texting or talking on a cell phone from the high driver’s position of his truck’s cab.

As technology advances, so must our awareness advance. Unquestionably, the hazards that existed in work zones in 1999 still exist today, but now those dangers have increased significantly as motorists download “apps” or review their credit-card balances while driving.  

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says more than 3,000 people were killed in distracted driving crashes in 2010. That’s astonishing. Until there is a nationwide ban on texting and talking on a cell phone while driving, those numbers can only go up.

Today, 10 states, Washington, D.C., Guam and the Virgin Islands prohibit drivers from using handheld cell phones. Additionally, 37 states, Washington, D.C., and Guam now ban text messaging for all drivers.

While we wait for the rest of the states to catch up, how about a nationwide ban on cell-phone use and texting in roadway work zones? In 2010, 576 people were killed in work zones. Eighty-five percent of those killed were motorists and their passengers. A “No Phones in Work Zones” law could save lives. ST

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