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Federal Highway Administrator Mary Peters
Remarks as prepared for delivery
5th Annual National Work Zone Awareness Week
Tuesday, April 6, 2004

How would you like it if someone drove through your office and skidded past your desk at 55 miles per hour? Would you be a little nervous? How about 65? More than 80?

I'm sitting in someone else's "office" today -- the men and women who are rebuilding the Springfield Interchange. The danger out here is real. Norman Mineta, our Secretary of Transportation, has said, "Safety is the number one transportation priority of the Bush Administration and a job that is never finished." The Administration is committed to raising the bar on safety and the Federal Highway Administration is committed to the Secretary's goal of dramatically improving safety on our highways.

On the morning of May 9 of last year, David Hamm and his four-person crew were filling potholes on the Duke Street Bridge over I-395, just a few miles from here. A motorist struck the rear of another vehicle slowing in the work zone, lost control, and entered a right lane work zone. James Cameron was hit and thrown off the overpass onto I-395 northbound, where he was struck by several vehicles and died at the scene. Hamm and his crew could only watch as their co-worker fell to his death.

David Hamm is here this morning and can talk with you about the impact the death of his friend and co-worker has had on him and his crew.

We're asking drivers to remember that for thousands of men and women, their workplace is the highway. And work zone safety is not just "their problem." It's more than workers who are at risk. It's everyone. In 2002, 1,181 persons were killed in motor vehicle crashes in work zones and more than 52,000 people were injured. Since 1998, work zone fatalities have increased 53 percent. Four out of five work zone fatalities are drivers and passengers.

Let me repeat that. Four out of five work zone fatalities are drivers and passengers.

So if you remember nothing else, remember these two things:

Drivers are the most frequent fatality in work zone crashes. Rear-end crashes -- running into the rear of a slowing or stopping vehicle -- are the most common type of work zone crash. The simple answer: don't tailgate. Keep a safe distance between you and the car ahead.

We may be frustrated at times, but we need work zones. Large parts of our Interstate system are almost 50 years old. Many other roads and bridges are wearing out. All of them are vital links in our national transportation network and essential to our economy. Work zones are needed to keep our roads in top condition and to protect the mobility of the American people.

FHWA is focusing on work zone safety in partnership with industry, transportation associations, and with government -- particularly state DOTs. Among the folks available to talk with you this morning are representatives from VDOT, D.C. DOT and the Maryland State Highway Administration.

Together, we are:

  • Moving strongly toward the use of long-life pavement to reduce frequency of repairs.

  • Planning projects to get in, get out, and stay out.

  • Identifying and promoting the use of work zone best practices.

  • Telling travelers what to expect so they can plan an alternative route.

  • Designing defensive work zones to protect workers from motorists.

  • Encouraging use of total road closures where appropriate. Total closure is proving to be an effective way to complete projects faster and improve safety for highway workers and motorists.

The tragic problem of highway fatalities is bigger than Virginia or even the U.S. Road safety is a worldwide public heath problem. The World Health Organization has selected road traffic safety as the theme for World Health Day 2004. Tomorrow kicks off a year of activities and events across the globe. WHO estimates that more than 1.26 million people die and 25 million are injured in traffic crashes worldwide each year.

All of us are responsible for highway safety.

We ask that when drivers move through this office, they slow down, stay alert, and be patient. These simple things can reduce crashes and, most important, they may save someone's life. After all, you are entering what some say is the most hazardous work place on earth, the public highway.

When roadwork is complete, all of us benefit from safer roads and fewer delays.

-end-

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