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Federal Highway Administration / Publications / Focus / April 2002

Accelerating Infrastructure Innovations

Publication Number: FHWA-RD-02-009
Date: April 2002

Now is the Time for Work Zone Safety

As the spring and summer construction seasons approach, drivers are being reminded to slow down and stay alert in work zones. The third annual National Work Zone Awareness Week (NWZAW) was observed April 8-12 across the country through events that highlighted this year's theme: "Roadways Keep America Moving. Drive Safely in Work Zones!"

The NWZAW, which is part of the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) ongoing effort to increase driver awareness of work zone safety, followed the release of some alarming statistics. Last October, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a report that revealed an estimated 26-percent increase in work zone fatalities from the previous year, from 868 in 1999 to 1,093 in 2000. Even more disturbing is that, as Roger A. Wentz, executive director of the American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA), says, "The number is probably higher. When accidents occur, they are usually filed as simply occurring in roadways, not in work zones." With the prospect of an increase in roadway reconstruction, Wentz adds that, "This data drives home the need for training, the presence of law enforcement in work zones, and better data collection."

"To keep America moving, repairs and improvements are needed on our Nation's roads," said FHWA Administrator Mary E. Peters. "The way we are going to have to deal with the problem of both mobility and safety in work zones must go beyond our traditional approaches. We have to begin looking at more than the work zone itself. We must go back early in project development and examine all of our decisions so that we reduce the exposure of travelers and workers to the hazards in work zones. We must also examine our planning processes, use of long-lived pavements, life-cycle costs, and the construction delivery process."

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), FHWA, and ATSSA sponsored an NWZAW event on April 9 near the I-95/I-495 interchange at Richie Road in Prince George's County, Maryland. Minnesota Congressman James L. Oberstar unveiled the ATSSA National Work Zone Memorial, which includes more than 700 names of roadway workers, motorists, members of law enforcement, children, and pedestrians who lost their lives as a result of work zone crashes. Family members of the deceased assisted Congressman Oberstar in the unveiling. The event also included speakers from the Maryland Department of Transportation (DOT), Virginia DOT, District of Columbia Division of Transportation, AASHTO, ATSSA, American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), and FHWA. The Memorial is scheduled to visit 13 other States to help raise public awareness of the dangers roadway workers face daily.

Many States also had activities scheduled for NWZAW. The Texas chapter of ATSSA and the Texas DOT, for example, worked together to continue their 3-year effort to publicly spotlight work zone safety. With the increase of nighttime work zones in Texas, ATSSA and the Texas DOT focused on publicizing the increased risk posed by nighttime roadwork. They have undertaken an ambitious publicity campaign that includes the distribution of bumper stickers, posters, and ribbons; newspaper coverage; and "toolbox" safety talks, which are on-the-job discussions about safety issues and techniques. They also worked with local traffic reporters to remind the public about the importance and relevance of NWZAW.

National Work Zone Awareness Week poster "Roadways Keep America Moving, Drive Safely in Work Zones!"

Although it was not ready for the 2002 NWZAW, the Texas chapter of ATSSA is working to create a video that reveals the differences between daytime and nighttime work zones. Many work zone safety technologies are not suited for nighttime work, and driver perception is hampered at night. According to ATSSA member Dane Alsabrook, these differences demonstrate the need for greater driver awareness and for the development of new technologies to improve safety. Alsabrook says, "I'm proud of our organization, because most of our members are working contractors who have volunteered their time, with no budget, to advance our efforts to increase work zone safety."

"Our surveys of the public's concerns tell us that people want us to think differently about how we do construction projects," notes Peters. "It is only through a careful examination of all the processes that lead up to a construction project that we will make a substantial change in the impact of a work zone on travelers and workers."

For more information about NWZAW, contact Mike Robinson at FHWA, 202-366-2193 (fax: 202-366-2249; email: mike.robinson@fhwa.dot.gov), or James Baron at ATSSA, 800-272-8772, ext. 113 (email: jimb@atssa.com). Information is also available on the Web at safety.fhwa.dot.gov or www.atssa.com/meetevents/nwzaw.htm.

The emphasis on work zone safety doesn't end with NWZAW. ARTBA, in partnership with the Texas Transportation Institute, recently announced the Second International Conference on Roadway Work Zone Safety. This year's conference, scheduled for December 2-6, 2002, in Orlando, Florida, will bring together government leaders, contractors, labor representatives, engineers, manufacturers, and trade associations to discuss all aspects of work zone safety. More information will soon be available on the ARTBA Web site at www.artba.org.

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Updated: 06/27/2017
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