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Federal Highway Administration / Publications / Focus / January 2000

Accelerating Infrastructure Innovations

Publication Number: FHWA-RD-00-055
Date: January 2000

Work Zone Safety: It's Everybody's Business

Work zones on U.S. highways have become increasingly dangerous places for both workers and travelers, with the death rate approaching two per day. With more than 70,000 work zones in place across America on a given day, highway agencies are realizing that it is not enough to focus on improving the devices used in the work zone areas, but that they must also reach out to the public in order to change the behavior of drivers so that crashes can be prevented.

Motorists who drive through work zones every day often do not pay enough attention to the advisory signs and thus fail to heed the posted warnings. Drivers need to be made aware of the fact that work zones require greater caution, adjusted speed appropriate for conditions, and heightened alertness. Although recent outreach campaigns, like the "Give 'Em A Brake" campaign, have focused mainly on the safety of the worker, it is also important for motorists to realize that their own safety is in just as much jeopardy as the workers'.

As the result of a recent Federal/State initiative under the National Highway Work Zone Safety Program, a new public outreach campaign, called "Get the Picture--Listen to the Signs," has been designed to address this safety issue.

The campaign was developed under a pooled-fund project, in which the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and 21 State departments of transportation (DOTs) participated (Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wisconsin).

Focus group studies conducted by FHWA helped to determine the goals of the "Get the Picture--Listen to the Signs" campaign. The results of these studies showed that many drivers do not realize how many deaths and injuries take place in work zones each year. Most study participants were also surprised to learn that more injuries and fatalities involve motorists than highway workers.

The main goal of the campaign is to educate the public about what the orange warning signs mean and the possible consequences of failing to heed those warnings. The campaign theme is: "Don't risk your life because you don't get the picture--be alert, slow down, and pay attention to the signs." At the kick-off of the campaign in 1998, campaign kits were sent to each State DOT in the country. The kit included two 30-second television public service announcements (PSAs), which feature 3D-animation; three 60-second radio PSAs; a brochure; a poster; and a bumper sticker, along with tips on how to effectively use the media kits. FHWA's Ann Walls says, "The campaign has helped by making drivers aware that they too are at risk in the work zone area."

States that have used the campaign so far include California, Connecticut, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Virginia. Many other States have combined portions of the campaign with their own outreach efforts.

Marty Matthews of Kansas DOT has used the "Get the Picture--Listen to the Signs" campaign for 2 years in a row, in conjunction with the "Give 'Em A Brake" campaign. He says, "We think it is effective. In 1999, we had the lowest number of fatalities and injuries in the work zone area since 1994. This just reflects 1 year, but we are pleased with the results."

For more information contact your State DOT public affairs office or Ann Walls at FHWA, 202-366-6836 (fax: 202-366-2249; email: ann.walls@fhwa.dot.gov).

To help reduce fatalities and injuries in highway construction areas, the Federal Highway Administration, American Traffic Safety Services Association, and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials have designated April 3-7, 2000, as National Work Zone Safety Awareness Week. Dwight Horne, FHWA's Director of the Office of Highway Safety Infrastructure, says, "Safety is a collective challenge, but perhaps more importantly, safety is our individual challenge. It is up to each of us-as drivers, pedestrians, designers, analysts, planners, enforcement personnel, traffic engineers, managers, and leaders--to use our talents, skills, and knowledge to continually improve safety."

April 3-7, 2000

National Work Zone Safety Awareness Week

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Updated: 06/27/2017
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