Efforts Lag to Improve Safety at Work Zones

This article considers the problem of a deadly road construction hazard: pavement-edge drop-offs. The author notes that accidents involving drop-offs in construction sites kill about 160 people and injure 11,000 each year. The author first reviews the details of recent problematic areas, including those in Texas work zones, and the circumstances that may have led up to the hazards being left uncorrected. In addition to pavement edge drop-offs, there are other hazards including concrete barriers in the wrong position, obsolete lane markings left in place, and warning signs that were never put into place. The author goes on to lament the lack of laws and regulations that could mandate safety measures in work zones. Although there are standards, they are loosely enforced and differ from state to state. The author reports the current consensus that believes that these hazards persist through a kind of collective indifference, a presumption that, given the crush of traffic and the vagaries of driver behavior, accidents happen. However, many work-zone crashes and injuries are preventable and are not solely caused by driver error or inattention. The author reports on a system implemented in Ohio to monitor work-zone crashes in real time which showed that the presence of construction caused accident rates to jump as much as 70%. Federal transportation officials are concerned that work-zone fatalities, after declining in recent years along with traffic deaths in general, could rise again with the increase in construction supported by stimulus funds. Much of the article focuses on the need for additional tracking of work-zone crashes and for holding contractors and state highway planners responsible for improving work-zone safety. The author describes specific incidents and how they could have been prevented, presents concerns regarding the accuracy of statistics regarding work-zone problems, outlines some ways that federally-mandated regulations would reduce the danger of construction work-zones, and calls for increased and improved inspection guidelines. Accompanying the article is a series of interactive graphics and a 10-minute video depicting problem work-zone situations.


  • English

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  • Accession Number: 01148175
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Files: TRIS
  • Created Date: Dec 29 2009 9:30AM