Work Zones: Temporary but Lives Changed Forever – The Criticality of Safe Driving Highlighted

National Work Zone Awareness WeekCredit: Commonwealth Media Services

HARRISBURG, PA — The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PA Turnpike), Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) and Associated Pennsylvania Constructors (APC) converged on Soldier’s Grove this Monday. The gathering was not a regular event but a solemn remembrance and an urgent call to action – a place and time to honor those who have given their lives in the line of duty while working to improve Pennsylvania’s roads and bridges.

The call for action is stark – it’s part of the National Work Zone Awareness Week (NWZAW) from April 15-19. It’s a clarion call for motorists to slow down and remain vigilant while driving through work zones. The message this year is potent: “Work Zones are temporary. Actions behind the wheel can last forever.”

With the onset of the construction season, PennDOT Secretary Mike Carroll took the opportunity to underscore that better roads and bridges bring not just smoother rides, but also dangers for the workers striving to make them better. His appeal was clear, “Our workers deserve to get home safely. Your actions while driving can influence their lives in irreversible ways. Slow down and never be distracted, especially in work zones where the conditions can vary daily.”

The harsh reality of the risks faced by these workers was brought home by the PennDOT and PA Turnpike worker memorials displayed during the event. PennDOT has suffered the loss of 90 workers since 1970, while the PA Turnpike has lost 45 workers since 1940.

While speeding in work zones has long been a concern, the problem has intensified during the pandemic, noted PA Turnpike Chief Operating Officer Craig Shuey. He pointed out that even after traffic returned to pre-pandemic levels, many motorists persist in racing through work zones at high speeds, with machinery and people only inches away.

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According to data shared by PennDOT, the implications and dangers are not hypothetical. In 2023 alone, there were 1,216 work zone crashes that caused 22 fatalities.

Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Colonel Christopher Paris urged, “All of us need to ensure the safety of highway workers.” He added, “Observe speed limits, heed signs, eliminate distractions, maintain a safe separation from the vehicle ahead of you, and avoid driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.”

In a move to bolster safety, statewide enforcement of the Work Zone Speed Safety Camera program has commenced this year. The program, which uses vehicle-mounted systems to detect and record motorists exceeding work zone speed limits by 11 mph or more, was recently made permanent by Act 38 of 2023. Violations draw graduated penalties – from a warning letter for a first offense, followed by a $75 fine for a second, and a $150 fine for subsequent offenses.

Robert Latham, Associated Pennsylvania Constructors Executive Vice President, amplified the importance of heeding work zone safety. He said, “The consequences of speeding in a work zone extend beyond a fine. It could change lives forever.” He commended the passage of Act 38, which made the use of automated speed enforcement cameras in work zones permanent.

Supporting the Work Zone Speed Safety Cameras program are encouraging results showing a significant reduction in work zone speeding and crashes, along with an enhancement in driver behavior and work zone safety. Over the five-year pilot program period, there was a 38% decrease in speeding in work zones and up to a 50% reduction in work zone crashes when a speed enforcement vehicle was present. This data reinforces the indisputable fact – slowing down and paying attention in work zones saves human lives.

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