The Threat of Physical Violence

April 16, 2024
Work Zone Safety includes being aware of hostile drivers

By Dave Jobeun, Contributing Author

As someone who has been involved in the temporary traffic control industry since the late 1970’s, I have witnessed just about everything one can on the road.   

We are all aware of the speed impact to those working on the roadways, and when we multiply that with the weight of the approaching vehicle, it makes it a no-win situation for the roadway worker who may be struck by an errant vehicle in the work zone, even if it is only the sideview mirror.   

Anyone working in traffic must be situationally aware and cannot be lost in thought or checked out mentally. Having your eyes glued to a cell phone screen or music blasted into your ears through headphones does not allow us to stay focused on the potential problem at hand while in the work zone.

When in active traffic, the roadway worker needs to have their head on a swivel, make eye contact with drivers (to ensure they know roadworkers are present in the area), listen for any alert of danger such as screeching tires, slamming doors, honking horns, or screaming voices.

Workers also must detect the smell of burning brakes or any other indications of a faulty vehicle. These methods are all used in being situationally aware in the roadway work zone.

Most people who work outside our industry could probably guess these dangers.

The threat from hostile drivers is one danger that often surprises people who are not familiar with the temporary traffic control industry.

Our experiences with driver hostility vary. We have had our employees verbally assaulted, some of them have even been hit by bottles, cans, or anything else that can be thrown from a moving vehicle.

I have witnessed people exiting their vehicles for confrontations. Sometimes road workers escalate the confrontation by responding to the verbal assaults by drivers of passing cars and trucks.  

I personally have had a former employee shot at while working on the road for another local temporary traffic control company in the last six months.  

The world and roadway work zones are constantly changing places with violence and aggression becoming more common in our everyday life. This is especially true on the road, where people feel autonomous and sometime invincible behind the wheel of their car or truck.  

There is little opportunity for roadway workers to deescalate the situation when these issues arise on the jobsite. Our only chance at neutralizing these situations is to not aggravate the aggressor with any type of response that may make them retaliatory or violent.  

When confronted with an aggressive or violent situation we must follow some basic guidelines 

  • Do not make it worse by participating in verbal exchanges or physically provoking the aggressor through actions or gestures. 

  • Look for an escape route, either on foot or by vehicle (leave yourself an out). 

  • Be prepared to take cover or at least conceal your position if unable to escape to avoid a potential attack. 

  • If the previous (3) steps have been ineffective you must look for any improvised weapons available or any other means you deem viable to defend yourself. The purpose is to prevent or avoid further danger or damage to your person. By taking up a defensive posture with defensive weapons, it is not your intention to be the victor in a pugilistic match. We merely use distraction techniques (items which can be thrown or noise makers, like an air horn), or heavy items to strike with, to allow us the opportunity to remove ourselves from danger. We must utilize any means necessary to interrupt the attackers’ focus and capitalize on that lapse of clarity to execute any plans we have formulated to enable our escape from the situation.  

  • Once the violent event is over, we identify those who may need help, contact authorities, and pass on any relevant information thatwould help law enforcement apprehend the person responsible. Save yourself first, aid others, then take back control of the area. 

Remember, the roadway is an unpredictable, dangerous place. Never let your guard down and always be situationally aware 

Watch out for your fellow roadworker so that each of you goes home safe every night. It is a tough, demanding job, and it’s well worth it because people’s lives depend on us to do our job in a professional manner, and drivers rely on us for their safety navigating the work zone. RB

Dave Jobeun is a martial arts instructor, MMA referee (including the UFC), A.L.I.C.E. instructor (Active Shooter), and an ATSSA corporate trainer. 

Sponsored Recommendations

The Science Behind Sustainable Concrete Sealing Solutions

Extend the lifespan and durability of any concrete. PoreShield is a USDA BioPreferred product and is approved for residential, commercial, and industrial use. It works great above...

Proven Concrete Protection That’s Safe & Sustainable

Real-life DOT field tests and university researchers have found that PoreShieldTM lasts for 10+ years and extends the life of concrete.

Revolutionizing Concrete Protection - A Sustainable Solution for Lasting Durability

The concrete at the Indiana State Fairgrounds & Event Center is subject to several potential sources of damage including livestock biowaste, food/beverage waste, and freeze/thaw...

The Future of Concrete Preservation

PoreShield is a cost-effective, nontoxic alternative to traditional concrete sealers. It works differently, absorbing deep into the concrete pores to block damage from salt ions...